Much-loved Big Issue vendor Jane Burns has become a “local Wimbledon landmark” in her time selling the magazine in south-west London and she can’t wait to make a return to her pitch.
The 54-year-old has been selling The Big Issue since 2001 and has been such a hit with her customers that plenty have written in to the magazine to pass on messages while one of them, The Times journalist Alyson Rudd, penned a piece about her as part of the newspaper’s charity appeal.
It has been a tough time for Jane she was forced to stop selling the magazine at the end of March when The Big Issue was forced to temporarily halt street sales to protect vendors from Covid-19.
The bottom fell out of my world when I found out that I couldn’t sell the magazine anymore, I had a sick lurch in my stomach
She has had to wait for money to come through from a new Universal Credit claim and has had to rely on support from her mother, food parcels plus cash and vouchers from The Big Issue to get by while she self-isolates in her flat. American bulldog-mastiff cross Caz has also provided essential comfort.
The time spent in isolation has brought to mind the nine years the former trainee accountant spent hospitalised after losing her right arm in a motorcycle accident in 1986 and her right leg to MRSA.
“I’d love to be back out there, it’s doing my head in. I’m going nuts,” said Jane, who sold the magazine at Centre Court Shopping Centre in Wimbledon before the lockdown.
“I’d become like a local landmark on my pitch. There is the two fat ladies statue and then I’m around the corner, Jane the Big Issue vendor.
“I’ve even had people thank me for being here. There was an elderly gentleman I knew and I didn’t realise his family didn’t live around here, when he died his children came to thank me because I was apparently the only contact he had and I made such a difference to his life.
“People don’t realise what isolation can be like, I did because I had to for so many years because of my accident. It was a responsibility to me and people tend to veer away from responsibility. Isolation is partly why I still sell the magazine because it helps me and it helps others too – I’m always there for a chat and anybody who is not even buying the issue, I am there to speak to them too.”
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
The loss of that vital interaction with customers has been one of the main misses for Jane during lockdown.
She has only had limited contact with her regular supporters, occasionally bumping into them in the brief times she has been able to get out of the house. One regular even chased her down the road to give her some money to tide her over while being unable to sell the magazine.
“People are really lovely and I miss them,” she told The Big Issue. “I just worry that I’ve lost many of them to this virus, especially because a lot of my customers are elderly.
Humbling to talk to Jane, The Big Issue seller who advises, consoles and smiles https://t.co/crZhxumHQq
— alyson rudd (@allyrudd_times) May 2, 2020
“The bottom fell out of my world when I found out that I couldn’t sell the magazine anymore, I had a sick lurch in my stomach. I didn’t know what to do. I’ve been finding it hard not selling.
“I miss the routine of getting up the most as well as going outside to meet customers and earning a living. It’s the whole thing. Having a purpose in life and then to be there in the fresh air. I’m privileged to be working in that environment. To be in the situation that I am in, to enjoy your job, there aren’t many people who can say that. I miss the independence as well.”
If you have a message for Jane or your local vendor, get in touch with The Big Issue at email@example.com. The Big Issue is continuing to print messages between readers and vendors and vice versa in the magazine as well as on our brand-new podcast.
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.