Rugby players Nasi Manu and Allan Dell joined a competitive team of lawyers and CEOs in the Scottish capital, as part of INSP’s international celebration of street papers and their vendors.
Nasi and Allan formed a friendly rivalry as they tried to out-do each other in sales on opposite sides of Edinburgh’s Castle Street.
But despite starting out confident, and towering over most passers-by, the pair admitted to feeling ignored by the public. Even after serenading and sweet-talking prospective customers, they sold just seven copies between them.
“Local vendor George was trying to get me to dance around. He didn’t teach me the dance moves though so I didn’t attempt it!” said Allan, originally from South Africa.
“It was very hard. People would just walk past. This teaches you to actually give people the time of day. Just giving people some chat or a smile will put a smile on the vendors’ faces.”
Nasi, from New Zealand, agreed that the experience was eye-opening. HSo much so that it’s encouraged him to become a regular Big Issue customer.
“I definitely will buy it more now after this,” said Nasi.
“These are people who are trying to do something with their lives – get a job and support themselves. I think just stop and talk. If that’s all you can do then do that and if you can you should definitely buy one and help them out.”
In Manchester, actress Maxine Peake sold Big Issue North for an hour alongside her regular vendor Monica, who she has known for a few years.
She said: “It was really hard. People ignoring you and blanking you is quite a difficult thing. It was quite soul destroying in some ways.”
All participants said the experience gave them an increased respect for the 11,000 hardworking vendors currently selling street papers around the world.
Lorna Jack, CEO of The Law Society of Scotland, said that even though she managed to sell nine copies of the magazine, it was difficult to engage everyone.
“Vendors really do a difficult thing and if I had a message to anyone it would be to at least engage them in conversation don’t look away. A polite ‘no thank you’ is enough,” she said.
Earlier this week, Geoff Aberdein, from investment group Aberdeen Asset Management, received support from his former boss, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s former First Minister, on social media.
He said he greatly admired the role INSP street papers play around the world.
“I think we’re in a world now where media is losing its personal interaction, it’s all done online, over twitter or social media and I think you shouldn’t lose sight of that the greatest thing about media was originally that it had interaction with real people. Anything we can do to restore that should be welcomed,” he said.
Despite starting out slow, Duncan Osler, Vice Chair of Social Enterprise Scotland, sold nine copies of the magazine on Princes Street. He said he admires the enterprising work of both street papers and the vendors they support.
“It was a very real experience and it makes you think about how it must be to actually be a vendor, because people can go past you and ignore you as if they don’t see you or they can give you a warm smile and be polite.
“It was good to get to put myself in the shoes of someone who is a vendor and think about what homelessness is and raise a bit of money to support people who need a bit of help,” he said.
Cally Russell, founder of hugely successful shopping app Mallzee, used his marketing and sales experience to sell an impressive 14 copies. He was also impressed by the unique role street papers play in helping vendors around the world.
“I think the greatest definition of how a society should be judged is on how it treats those less fortunate. Street papers like The Big issue are a great example of that,” he said.
“A big part of this was meeting the guys selling The Big Issue and how excited and passionate they were about it. It’s not that they are just taking a handout, they are going out there and they are working hard for what they are getting.
“When you give people a sense of community and a sense of being, everyone being together around something, then it makes it so much more powerful. Instead of it just being a job, it becomes a calling, which is great.”