Exeter vendor Donna Barlow: ‘I miss the social side of selling the magazine’

Donna can’t wait to get back to her pitch to see the “lovely people of Exeter” again

The Big Issue has helped vendor Donna Barlow through the Covid-19 crisis while she has shared a single room with her son, partner and dog and now she can’t wait to get back to her pitch.

Exeter vendor Donna has spent lockdown in a bedsit flat alongside 30-year-old son Josh, her partner and dog Rogan after being told in March that she could no longer sell the magazine on the streets when The Big Issue halted sales to protect vendors from the virus.

After having her income stopped overnight, the 45-year-old insisted that money has been tight with The Big Issue supporting her throughout her time off the streets.

We have bought Donna a new cooker after her old unit and fridge broke down shortly after she entered lockdown. She was forced to rely on a microwave and a couple of rings of the hob so The Big Issue has ordered her a new appliance while her son has brought his mini fridge to the bedsit for them to get by.

Thank you for buying the magazine while we haven’t seen you because we have been getting the help from The Big Issue. The money has been getting to us

And, like many Big Issue vendors, Donna has sought comfort in “therapy dog” Rogan, who has been with her for the last three and a half years.

She said: “I’m really enjoying going out at about five in the morning with the dog and there’s no one out there – it’s nice, I find it really refreshing. It’s the same in the evenings at about 10 or 11 o’clock.

“It’s brilliant having the dog, he’s a therapy dog really. I always say to my partner or my son that if you’re feeling a bit down then stroke the dog or take him out. He’s also allowed us to go out a little more than other people – going out really early or late has been my trick during the lockdown.”

As well as buying her equipment to keep her and her family fed, The Big Issue Foundation, our charitable arm, has also provided Donna with a smartphone to keep in touch with her 76-year-old mother and niece who live in nearby Dawlish.

DID YOU KNOW…

The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.

The social contact outside the four walls that she calls home has been a big miss for Donna – that’s why she is keen to get back on her pitch.

“I’ve found it really boring not being able to sell the magazine,” she added. “I’ll be really happy to get back to work – I was started to get a little bit bored of being a Big Issue vendor as I have done it on and off for so long but now I’m ready to get back out.

“I’ve had no contact with my customers. I haven’t left this side of the river in Exeter which means I haven’t seen any friends or anybody that doesn’t live down this way.

“It’s been difficult because I have friends who would invite me round to their house for a cup of tea once I’d finished selling the magazine or somebody might make me tea and that is not happening at the minute.

“The main reason for selling, apart from financial, was the social side of it. There are so many lovely people in Exeter and they really do care. They ask how your family are – they don’t just buy the magazine, they come for a chat and make sure that you’re alright and it’s the same the other way around.”

But even though her customers may not be able to see her face-to-face, that’s not to say they haven’t had an impact on her life.

The help that The Big Issue has been able to provide to Donna is only possible thanks to the customers who have subscribed to the magazine while she is off the streets.

Donna added: “The Big Issue Foundation have been brilliant because I haven’t got a bank account as yet so they’re trying to sort that out and they’ve been giving me food vouchers. That’s been brilliant.

“To all my customers, I can’t wait to see you again later in the year. Thank you for buying the magazine while we haven’t seen you because we have been getting the help from The Big Issue. The money has been getting to us.”

You can help us support Big Issue vendors by buying one-off issues or subscriptions from The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

You can keep us going by subscribing to the magazine to receive it every week directly to your door or device. Head to bigissue.com/subscribe for more details.

You can also get a copy in stores for the first time. Head to Morrisons, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, McColl’s, Co-op, Asda or WH Smith to grab the latest issue.

Image: Andrew Butler