Two Big Issue vendors on how the UK’s COVID-19 measures will affect them

Big Issue vendor Robin Price: “This is my life. I don’t know what I’m going to do”

I’ve sold The Big Issue for 26 years now and this is the first time I’ve ever been told that I cannot go out and sell. I’m sitting here watching the sun go down and the beach was packed today so I felt quite gutted not to be out. It felt like everyone else was out and I’m not allowed to.

I genuinely don’t know what I’m going to do, I really don’t. Last week, I could see it was getting more and more quiet as the week went on. I bought my magazines on Monday and I sold 18 all week. I’d normally sell all 50, I guarantee you that. I have this motto, sell 10 a day and have two days off. But the lovely people of Weston have been helping me out with an extra pound here, 50p there. It all helped.

Big Issue vendor Robin. [Photo courtesy of The Big Issue UK]

A few shops started to go to takeaway only, and it just went downhill from there. The owner of the coffee house I stand outside texted me on Friday night to say she was sorry but she wasn’t opening either. I didn’t go out on Saturday because I thought, what’s the point? If there’s no cafes open there will be nobody in town.

I’m also a franchisee for The Big Issue so I don’t quite know how that’s going to work. Basically, I would go to Bristol, pick up 100 magazines a week and come back down and sell them on to vendors. If there were any immediate problems, I’d try to sort them out or if new people wanted to join up I’d take their details and hand them in to the office. It was a lot of mentoring, basically. It was kind of like my own business, but for The Big Issue. So yeah, I liked doing the franchise work.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, if I’m honest. I know there are thousands of other vendors out there who are going through the same as me, but I just feel absolutely lost.”

I’m going to miss my customers; I’ll miss the banter. I’ll wake up early anyway. I’ll miss the chitchat, the laughs, the social work bit. You listen to everyone’s problems after the weekend, “Oh, you won’t believe what she did on Saturday…” That sort of thing. You take it all for granted but now all this is affecting me. Hopefully this isn’t going to last long but I see people are saying three months. I’ve been watching the five o’clock bulletins with Boris Johnson every day on the BBC. He comes across as if he’s genuinely trying. You’ve got to remember that none of us know anything about this. It’s all new to us, but equally it’s all new to them as well.

Over my life The Big Issue has helped me out, it’s got me off the streets, it’s stopped me from begging. It’s become my life. It’s also given me something to focus on, and I’ll go as far as to say it stops most of my mental ill health because of that focus. I might bitch and moan about it on a Monday morning when I’m going up to Bristol but I love it really. I’ve got my model railways to distract me and a computer I can mess about with. Everything’s to do with trains for me. But I don’t know what I’m going to do, if I’m honest. I know there are thousands of other vendors out there who are going through the same as me, but I just feel absolutely lost.

Interview by Sarah Reid


Big Issue vendor Simon Gravell: “I worry I’ll be back rough sleeping”

Popular Big Issue seller Simon Gravell has been hit on two fronts by the coronavirus outbreak.

Known among his regulars for his big smile and his signature jester hat, Simon has built up a customer base on his pitch outside Topshop [a clothes store] in Norwich that has allowed him to use his passion for antiques to start selling them at the All Saints Antiques Centre in the city.

He has been trying to build up his custom as a long-term way of developing a sustainable income to enable him to stop selling The Big Issue magazine, which was vital to helping him secure accommodation after he was rough sleeping a decade ago.

Simon’s passion for antiques has also seen him appear on BBC’s Antiques Road Trip while last year he took us through his wares for a feature in the magazine.

Big Issue vendor Simon. [Photo by Nic Donovan]

But with a lot of his money tied up in antiques and while being temporarily unable to sell the magazine directly on the streets, Simon insists that a long-term lockdown has him fearful for the future.

He said: “The antiques centre where I was selling closed down on Monday so that has affected my income but to be quite honest, last week it wasn’t worth opening anyway. I think one day they did one sale for £7 out of the whole centre. If this goes on for a very, very long period, and I’m talking more than three months, it will literally put me back to where I was 10 years ago sleeping rough.

“But what I have got through my mind, which is a bit of a saving grace, is that at the moment all the local auction houses are closed anyway. If need be, I can just throw a load of stock back through to auction with the attitude of win, lose or draw to put money back into my pocket. All my money that I have earned has gone into the antiques, I take the money I earn from selling antiques and put it back in so I’m trading up, not taking profits.”

Even though he is not able to sell antiques at the centre or The Big Issue on his pitch, Simon has been in constant contact with The Big Issue’s sales and operations team in the area to support him through the lockdown.

Photo by Nic Donovan

He added: “I’ve got enough food for a few weeks and I still have a little bit of cash and money from iZettle sales of magazines, which is going to act as my nest egg.

The Big Issue has been good to me and the office have rang me a couple of times to see if I need food or anything. I didn’t because I know there are other vendors out there who will need help more than me.

“I’m missing my customers. Take yesterday, for example, Monday is always my best day. As the hours were ticking by, I was thinking how much money I was losing too.”

Written by Liam Geraghty