Dan Down, Gowling WLG
Selling the Big Issue to the general public alongside Mike - our partner vendor - was a truly humbling and rewarding experience. Whilst it felt positive to support local vendors through our volunteering contributions, it was eye-opening to experience first-hand the difficulties vendors face when attempting to earn a legitimate income. In particular, I found the educational aspect to the day enlightening, as common misconceptions about the magazine and business model were dispelled. Hearing stories of the transformational impact the organisation has on many vendors’ lives was inspiring, and I look forward to working with the Big Issue further in the future.
Gemma Scott, Gowling WLG
"I will never forget the experience that day gave me"
Before doing the Vendor Day I knew a bit about what the Big Issue was and that the basic concept was the vendors paid for copies of the magazine which they then sold on and kept the difference but other than that the only image I had was of the people in the red vests standing on the streets. I had bought the magazine a few times, usually based on who was on the cover but (and I am ashamed to admit this now) more often than not I would just hurry past the sellers on the city streets and not pay much attention as I was too caught up in my own world and getting to wherever I was going to even acknowledge them standing there.
When I put on the red jacket I felt very conspicuous. I thought about how people might look at me, I wondered what they might think of me and who I am and where I am from. Paul, the vendor who I spent my day with, was a great guy, he was friendly and gave me some tips on how to sell like trying to catch peoples eye and reminded me that it costs nothing to be polite suggesting I wish everyone a good day as they go by. Even with his advice and knowing he would be around I was anxious when I got to my pitch and started to try and sell. I was worried about getting abuse or negative comments but nothing really prepared me for the feeling I had when tens, then hundreds of people walked past me and just ignored me. I stood smiling, holding out my copies of the magazine asking if anyone wanted to buy it and again and again I was ignored and it wore me down quicker than I anticipated. The worst feeling was when someone would see me and you would watch them plan how to avoid you and then they would hurry past. It felt dehumanising, like I was invisible and I didn’t matter.
Occasionally someone would acknowledge me and wish me a good day back and that felt great – it made me feel like a person again even if they didn’t buy a copy because they had seen me. After an hour or so I finally sold one copy and I was on top of the world, being given the money and handing over the magazine was one of the best feelings I have ever had. Over the next few hours hundred more people walked past me and I sold another copy before my shift with Paul was over.
By the end of the day I was aching and tired and just wanted to get warm and have a cup of tea. In just over three hours I sold two magazines and had £5.90 in my pocket. Taking out the cost of the magazine to the vendor I had earnt £3.40 – it was a long time standing for not a lot of money and I was lucky the weather was fair, I hadn’t had to stand in the freezing cold or pouring rain and I knew I was coming back to my life as a trainee solicitor. It has taught me a lot about being polite and made me even more grateful for what I have. I am lucky but at any point life can throw you a curve ball and as Paul said it was not just an experience but work experience in what it was like to have nothing and need to try and pull your life back together.
Since the day ended I have told everyone who will listen what the Big Issue is about and how hard the vendors work in all weathers to sell the magazine to give themselves a living and plan to continue telling people. The main thing I now tell people is even if you don’t want a copy don’t ignore the vendor, acknowledge them, say no thanks, ask them how they are and wish them a good day as being seen and treated like a human being is just as important. When I got back to Birmingham the next day and walked through the city I said hi to each vendor I passed and will continue to do so no matter how much of a rush I am in as politeness and decency cost nothing.
I will never forget the experience that day gave me and cannot thank The Big Issue enough for what I have learnt. Last of all I want to thank the vendor Paul, he is a credit to The Big Issue and has definitely changed my life.