A Ful-Phil-ing Day
My day started as normal, except I was in a warm and secure hotel room reading my emails at about 7am in the morning. I looked out of the window to see a beautiful sunrise and was pleased that it wasn’t raining as I did not relish the thought of standing out on the streets in the pouring rain. Feeling guilty, I took a taxi to Liverpool Street Station, it was a short walk but I felt I needed to conserve my energy and legs for the day ahead. After a brief introduction and familiarisation of what was expected on the day, I quickly settled on a pitch outside Liverpool Street station opposite Tesco’s. I had really no idea of what to expect.
After the first ten minutes of wearing my red jacket, I felt that I had lost my identity.
People who would have previously readily engaged with me, looked and treated me as if I didn’t exist or that I should be shunned. A lot of people veered across the pavement away from me as if I had some sort of force field around me, it seemed as though they would rather step in front of a London bus than buy a Big Issue from me. What I couldn’t understand, and still don’t, is peoples attitude towards the street vendors. During the day I met many of the other sellers and they were very supportive, friendly and were normal people like me and you. All they need is to be treated as you would treat any of your fellow colleagues, family or friends. Talk nicely to them, it doesn’t matter if you don’t buy a magazine but just speaking politely to them would make a big difference to their day and obviously even better would be buying a magazine.
Some people handed me money, which I refused. I said I wasn’t a street beggar but I was a business man selling magazines and I would prefer that you bought and took away a magazine, I buy the magazines at £1.25 and make £1.25 profit per magazine sold and I cannot return any unsold magazines. Most people who I spoke to did not realise this and they were under the impression that the vendors get the magazines for free, there is a huge misconception surrounding this from the public. I think more people need to know about this and it may help change attitudes. I started selling at 9:30am and by 2pm I had sold 4 copies. I was very cold, dehydrated and hungry by this time, I decided to walk down to the McDonalds and buy myself a McDonald’s meal and then the reality of the day struck home. If this was for real I had only earned £5 and my meal came to over £6.50, so after four and a half hours work I had not even earned enough money to pay for my lunch.
During the day, however, there were some acts of kindness from people…
Some bought me drinks, entered into conversation with me and bought the magazine but I would say 80% of people treated me with distain. You do get some abuse off of people; one person threw chips down at my feet! At first I thought he wanted me to eat them off the pavement but I quickly realised his motive. It drew a massive flock of pigeons on top of me, but clearly the pigeons were on my side that day they quickly polished off the chips and went, thus spoiling his fun. I was challenged to sell 20 big issues and during the day I managed to sell 13. I raised over £1000 on my just giving site as part of this challenge, which I donated to the Big Issue.
So what did I learn from this?
Well, I learnt how hard it is for these street vendors and that they are just like me and you but something has happened in their lives to put them at a disadvantage. All they need is a hand up and to be treated with respect and I am sure many of them over a period of time will return to what we describe as a normal life. I have also learnt how hard we are as a society and how bias we are to the marginalised sectors. I would recommend trying the Big Issue street vendor experience to everyone, they will understand a little bit of what it’s like to live, think and communicate on the street and maybe how they see others in less fortunate positions. I have made some new friends, especially Carlos, another street vendor who insists whenever I come to London I should look him up. So at the end of my day, I was still tired and mentally exhausted, I felt I had the energy to walk back to my safe hotel, something that the street vendors would not be able to experience but this time I didn’t feel as guilty.
Following this experience, I have teamed up with the local Big Issue office in Nottingham and we have been able to give a street vendor a work experience placement for two days a week at our company and he sells the big issue in reception at lunch time. Hopefully, we will be able to get his skill level up to the point where we are able to offer him a permanent job or so he can get a job outside of our organisation.
My final message to you….
So my message to everyone is to be pleasant to your local vendor, please buy a copy but if you can’t just speak to them, say hello and look them in the eye as a fellow human.