I buy The Big Issue nearly every week.
My local seller in Llandudno, Chris, has a pitch outside Marks and Spencer and he's there in all weathers. Not always first thing in the morning but he makes an appearance as soon as he can. Somedays he doesn't have the money to buy many issues up front so he vanishes over and over again to buy some more and then dashes back to his spot by the traffic lights hoping he hasn't missed the few regular customers that he has.
Because YES, the Big Issue vendors BUY the copies of the magazine that they sell. There is a popular misconception that they get these magazines for free and can spend the money they make willy nilly. Not true and I wanted to put this out on the blog today for everyone to see and to take note of as I am getting annoyed in my own small quiet way at this injustice. As it states clearly in the magazine each week The Big Issue is 'a hand up not a hand out'.
The official vendors wear recognisable tabards/waistcoats with their identification for all to see on their breast pocket. They buy the magazine for half of it's cover price which is usually £2.50. At this time of year the issues are bigger with much more inside, news stories, interviews and puzzles and it costs £3. Which means that the vendors buy each copy that they sell for £1.50 and sell it at a £1.50 profit. This is self employment at it's most basic level and through the Big Issue Foundation they are taught to manage their earnings, make it work for them in the best possible way and hopefully it will get them on a pathway to a accommodation, employment, socialisation and confidence.
I'm not demanding that you all dash out and buy a copy for yourself ... although of course I would love it if you did, but through this post I would like to ask for more understanding of what the sellers are going through.
They each have their own back story, their own reasons for what put them in the position of being on the streets selling this magazine and those are not for us to query, question or scoff at. If you don't want to buy a copy for whatever reason they are usually polite and offer a cheery 'have a nice day', 'good morning/afternoon' or at this time of year 'Happy Christmas' or 'All the Best', please respond similarly.
It takes nothing out of our day to smile and say 'no thank you' and go on our way if we don't want or need another copy of the magazine. All too often I have seen passers by completely ignore Chris, look at him as an inconvenience, someone just getting in their way as they rush through their day. His crestfallen look after this happens time and time again is hard to watch.
I bought my regular copy off him a couple of weeks ago late in the morning, he had been at his pitch for a couple of hours and the look on his face as I approached made my day, my day was made even more when on telling me I was his first customer of the day he moved forward to hug me, not knowing what reaction he would get I could sense a readiness to withdraw but we hugged, he smiled, the most glorious smile and as we parted a quiet 'thank you' escaped his lips.
Since that day we have hugged a few times ..... it's not much to ask is it, £1.50 profit and a little bit of human contact.
This week Chris was not in his usual place on Wednesday when I went into Llandudno, but across the road was the new guy that has inched slightly too close onto Chris's pitch. He's a jolly faced foreign gentleman with limited but well spoken English and I bought a copy off him. He wished me all the best and I took my copy into Waterstones and read it over a cup of coffee, thinking all the while it was a shame Chris wasn't there. I needed to pop back to Llandudno on the Thursday so I went prepared.
Reverse Advent - Day 20
A Christmas Card for my favourite Big Issue seller with a Christmas bonus, to do with as he wants.
I gave him a smile, apologised for missing him the previous day and admitted to buying this weeks copy off his competition ... he gave me a hug and said ..... thank you.