My name is Emma and I am a Big Issue vendor in London.

I’m originally from Bulgaria. I decided I wanted to see the world and so went traveling. I went to many different countries and experienced lots of great cultures. I didn’t plan to stop travelling but when I reached the UK, my heart was telling me I had found my new home.

I was really starting to settle in when unfortunately, I lost my job. The company I was working for left the UK and I was unable to secure new work. I was unable to keep up with my rent and found myself rough sleeping.

I was sleeping on the streets, relying on support services. I would go to a day centre every day where I would be able to have a shower and a hot meal.

Then I discovered The Big Issue. Someone gave me some information about how it worked, and I thought “I can do that!”. I felt it would help me to gain independence from the day centres and services I had been relying on.

Selling The Big Issue is not easy, you have to be patient. It takes a while for you to start making a regular profit. Like any business, it is not going to happen overnight. Some days you won’t sell anything, no one will buy a magazine.

You need to remain patient and stay positive. No matter what, you need to be on your pitch every day.  People get used to seeing you, they start to remember you and eventually they will buy a magazine.

I started to have regular customers but selling the magazine in central London, I would also get lots of customers who were visiting from other countries. I would have customers from everywhere from Finland to Japan!

I also sometimes asked people why they bought the magazine. They would say I was always smiling and had a positive energy. It made me feel good to know that was how people saw me.

At this time, I was still sleeping on the street, but I felt like I had more independence as I had an income and didn’t have to rely on handouts from day centres as much. I was able to buy my own food and I could buy some clean clothes. I would still go to the day centre to have a shower, but I didn’t rely on them for food anymore and that felt like a big step in the right direction.

The journey to get off the streets and into housing is not that simple. You face a lot of challenges and there can be a lot of disappointing times.

When I had enough money, I would pay for a night in a hostel to get a good night’s sleep. I ended up staying at a night shelter for around 2 years. Staying at the night shelter is hard as although you have somewhere to sleep, every morning you must pack everything up and leave again. It did allow me to access more services that would help me on my journey to more secure accommodation.

After 5 years of engaging with services, I was able to get keys to my own flat. I finally had a place that I could call my home.

And then the pandemic happened.

I didn’t really have savings. During the first lockdown, I remember I didn’t have electricity for a whole week. I also didn’t have much to eat.

The Big Issue provided support and it made a big difference. I was able to get supermarket vouchers to ensure I could eat regularly.

They also helped me to apply for benefits. It’s the first time in my life I have ever been on benefits. My independence is important to me, but it is not shameful to get support when you need it.

Being in lockdown also affected my mental health. Living alone, I felt very isolated. Regular welfare calls from The Big Issue really helped me to get through some difficult times. My mood is still up and down but it is good to have people I can connect with when I am struggling.

Earlier this year, we explored options for how to improve my mental wellbeing. I decided to return to volunteering with a befriending service for people experiencing street homelessness. I enjoyed volunteering before and it gave me a sense of purpose.

We meet up with people who are sleeping on the streets to check on their wellbeing. If they want to access accommodation, we have a conversation about that. We can then report back to the office who can start working on the next steps to make that a reality.

My volunteer supervisor told me about a paid opportunity with the organisation and suggested I should apply. I am delighted to share that I have been accepted for the role. Life has taught me to adapt to whatever comes next. I am excited to embrace the new challenges and responsibilities this role will bring.

The Big Issue has helped with so many things but most importantly it has helped to provide stability and an income to give me my independence.

I look forward to the end of lockdown. I think have re-watched every episode of my favourite TV show NCIS during lockdown. I am excited to have more freedom again. I will take my time to return to regular life, but I am very excited to see my friends again.

These are very uncertain times. We don’t know what’s going to happen next or in the future. But we must have hope that there are better times to come.

We want to continue to support to Big Issue vendors during the third lockdown. When possible, we want to ensure Big Issue vendors have a safe and successful return to selling the magazine.

Make a donation to support Big Issue vendors today.

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