Cambridge vendor Lee Welham has vowed to “never give up” on his market stall dream as the coronavirus pandemic has seen him work harder than ever to look after other vendors.
Lee, 36, sells the magazine at the Round Church in Cambridge and has become known among his regular customers and tourists for giving a tour and telling visitors facts about the attraction.
But, as well as vending, he is also a franchisee who is responsible for ensuring other vendors in Cambridge can buy their magazines.
And even though this week he and his fellow vendors have been unable to sell the magazine after The Big Issue was forced to temporarily stop selling the magazine on the streets, Lee has been ensuring that everyone is keeping well during the coronavirus lockdown.
He told The Big Issue: “I’m really enjoying being a franchisee in Cambridge, I’ve got to know all the vendors in Cambridge and it has been very rewarding for me. I even managed to get a vendor a job a few months ago so I’ve enjoyed being able to do that. This week I have been ringing all the vendors and making sure they are okay.
“What a difference Friday was! We usually have 20,000 students and thousands upon thousands of tourists and I could literally count everyone there on one hand.
“I’m missing my customers, that’s the main thing. In the two years that I’ve doing The Big Issue, I’ve had people worrying for me, taking care of me, cutting my hair and giving me jobs. Now a lot of my customers over the age of 55 and I am worried for a lot of them.”
The Big Issue magazine is read by an estimated 379,195 people across the UK and circulates 82,294 copies every week.
As well as representing The Big Issue in Cambridge, Lee also represented The Big Issue on television this week when he spoke to Channel 4 News on Wednesday alongside Big Issue founder Lord John Bird. He is also keeping a video diary for the channel, chronicling the time he is spending in lockdown.
Lee had been planning on stepping back from selling the magazine last year as he hoped to set up a market stall selling kid’s toys in Cambridge. He had previously run a market stall before being made homeless.
Lee was unable to begin trading at Christmas and had been to try again in April but his plans have now been shelved once again due to Covid-19.
But that has done little to dampen his determination to carry on with his dream.
Lee added: “It’s so heart-breaking because I really wanted that stall at Christmas to go alongside being a franchisee, I still want to distribute the mags to the lads. But the toys are what I used to do before I became homeless so to get back would be like it’s gone full circle. It’s a little disappointing but I am the sort of character who never gives up. This coronavirus may have stopped me now but who knows? Maybe if this is sorted by the summer then I can set up a stall next Christmas.
“I live in temporary accommodation now and I have loads of stock in the flat ready to be sold. I’m selling a few online at the moment and that is tiding me over.”