A WOMAN who spent time living on the streets before becoming one of the most senior female firefighters in the UK has been appointed as an ambassador for the Big Issue.

Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, 36, became homeless at the age of 15 and sold the magazine as a teenager.

Now deputy assistant commissioner of Surrey fire brigade, she has shared the story of her extraordinary turnaround in an interview with the Big Issue.

“Life was brilliant until my dad got ill,” she said. “He was given six months to live but ended up living for six years. He was an awesome man. Him and my mum absolutely idolised each other.

“After he died she suffered very badly with her mental health. Things were really difficult. We were completely poverty-stricken.

“It wasn’t long before I was sleeping rough. On and off, for two years I was either sleeping rough or vulnerably housed.

“We used to sleep in the doorway of a disused church until it was boarded up, I would sleep in subways,” Cohen-Hatton added.

She said the Big Issue gave her an opportunity to earn money and have some dignity back.

“When you live that life, you feel invisible. You feel like a ghost in society. If someone in the street falls over, people rush over to help, but there you are on the street corner with no food in your belly, nowhere to live, no clean clothes and people walk past you like you are not there.”

On the move to her firefighting career, Cohen-Hatton said: “I really wanted to join the fire service. Even when I was still homeless, this was what I was aspiring to.

“I applied to 30 different fire services across the country. I would have gone anywhere, but I got the job in South Wales and it was all up from there.

“I knew what rock bottom felt like. I knew what the worst possible day felt like and I certainly knew what vulnerability felt like. I saw it as an opportunity to rescue other people in a way that no one rescued me. That is something that I carry with me every day when I go to work.”

As well as being a firefighter for 18 years, Cohen-Hatton has studied psychology and written a book on life-and-death decision-making called Heat Of The Moment.