When I first heard about The Big Issue Foundation’s new campaign StageSwap at the WhatsOnStage Awards I signed up immediately. It sounded like a great idea and to be honest, if Alison Steadman can do it…..then so can I!
As so often is the case, I signed up, bought a Big Issue on the way out of the theatre and thought no more about it. Between then and when I was contacted about taking part I probably walked passed hundreds of Big Issue sellers and smiled politely saying “no thank you” or just “didn’t hear” them.
When I was contacted it suddenly seemed a much more real proposition. How would it feel to actually stand on the street as a vendor? Many questions flew around my head….would it be patronising to the vendor I was working alongside? Would it be easy to sell the magazine? Would people be able to tell I was a volunteer? Did that matter? Would there be an element of resentment from the vendor…..here is this actor turning up….not being able to stay to for the full amount of time as I had a matinee…..selling a few magazines and then heading off to the theatre……I’m not sure how welcoming I would be in their shoes….
The day arrived and it was a glorious sunny London day – the sort of weather that makes everyone that bit more pleasant and gives everyone that “holiday feeling”. Surely this would help……
I arrived at Equity for my briefing along with Zoe Rainey – it was just the two of us taking part that day. We were taken through a bit of history about The Big Issue and the lives of a typical vendor – how many magazines they sell on average (a surprisingly low 40 per week), the business model for the magazine and vendor (each magazine is purchased for £1.25 by the vendor and sold for £2.50 – that’s an average income of £50 a week), and the support networks provided by The Big Issue Foundation.
Then we hit the streets to meet our vendors. Mine was Gary who has been selling the magazine for the last few years and has a regular pitch outside Leicester Square tube/Wyndhams Theatre (my whole London geography is based around theatres). Gary also works at the magazine distribution point outside M& S on Long Acre. This is where the vendors go to buy their magazines and it is run by Sam and Gary from 7am to 7pm every day of the week.