Big Issue Vendor

‘Can’t wait’: Big Issue sellers return to the streets after lockdown

After a difficult year, magazine sellers tell us how they have coped and what they're most looking forward to as life slowly returns to normal
Big Issue vendors in England and Wales will be back on April 12.

A welcome sign the country is opening up is that Big Issue vendors in England and Wales will soon be back earning a living for themselves again.

As retail, gyms, libraries, hairdressers and outdoor hospitality lift up their shutters as part of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, sellers return to their pitches ready to greet customers on April 12. They will be followed in a couple of weeks by vendors in Scotland.

The latest stay at home order meant more than three months of isolation for vendors but through shop sales, subscriptions and donations the public has helped support them.

We asked how they’ve coped through this period and what they’re most looking forward to as life gets back to a new kind of normal.

Big Issue Vendor Simon Gravell
Simon Gravell
Big Issue Vendor Simon Gravell gets festive in Norwich

Simon Gravell, 53, Norwich city centre 

“Just getting out and doing something. Some days I’ve not been getting out of bed until 11.30 because there’s nothing to get out of bed for.

“I used to be awake at 6 o’clock every morning but you get up at 6 o’clock and you’ve got nothing to do. By 10 o’clock – four hours down the road – you’re bored stiff and you’ve still got a full day ahead of you.”

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Vendor Robin Price with his dog Tinks, who he says has got him through lockdown when he has been unable to sell.

Robin Price, 46, The Coffee House, Weston-super-Mare 

“I really can’t wait to get back out. I’m looking forward to seeing friends and getting the gossip. To be fair, I’m not really an outdoor person unless I’ve got my red jacket on. 

“I’m kind of a Jekyll and Hyde really. When I’ve got my red jacket I get brave and I’ve got all the confidence going. But when I don’t have my jacket on, I actually stay inside anyway.” 

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Credit: Trevor Burrows

Clive, 58, Theatre Royal, Plymouth 

“I’m looking forward to seeing all my friends at the theatre and all the people who work in theatre. All the people who keep the theatre running, design the shows, choreograph things and run the electrics. I can’t wait to go back and see them all and see who’s come through the storm.

“It’s all about the people for me, so I can’t wait to see all my customers and friends. That’s the biggest thing for me.”

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Exeter vendor Will Adams

Will Adams, 30, outside O2, High Street, Exeter

“I miss my customers. Quite a lot of them are elderly so I do worry about them and I just want to make sure everyone is okay. 

“It will be good to see the other vendors as well. Off the top of my head, there are like seven pitches in Exeter and most are in the city centre so you will see some if not all of the vendors at some point during the day. 

“Honestly, I can’t wait to be able to have a burger and a pint. It doesn’t even have to be with friends. Even if I just go and do that on my own, to have that nice cold pint and that burger, there’s nothing better.

“I really miss the social interaction of everything. I’m very social and I’ve got a lot of friends. I’m always around people really. I love the people I’m staying with at the moment, they’re great, but I miss my friends a lot.” 

Nick Cuthbert credit John Bradshaw
Nick has been keeping his card reader on a chair to help maintain social distancing (Credit: John Bradshaw)

Nick Cuthbert, 56, Lemon Quay, Truro 

“Seeing people again. Normally we speak to 100 people a day at least and I’m missing that part really. 

“I’m probably one of the busiest vendors, half of the people I speak to in a day might not buy the issue but they still come to speak – little old ladies and people who live on their own, we get life stories and everything.” 

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Edinburgh vendor Kenny Whitecross

Kenny Whitecross, 40, Stockbridge, Edinburgh

“I’m actually just looking forward to seeing the people who stopped by. I haven’t seen a lot of my customers since Christmas Eve. It’s just the conversations I get with some of them. I’ve actually bumped into a few when I’ve been up the town. 

“I’m looking forward to spending more time with my son when lockdown eases as well, I used to take him to laser tag and bowling and karting.

Julie Cherry Jack
Julie Cherry and Jack dropin
Julie and Jack posed for a snap when The Big Issue delivered pet food to her accommodation

Julie Cherry, 51, Waitrose, Winton, Bournemouth

“I miss talking to people every day. It’s been a year basically on and off so it will be nice to actually talk to people that I used to see every day. 

“I’ve seen a couple of my regulars when I’ve gone shopping and they always ask me the same thing: ‘When are you going back to work?’. I keep saying we can’t until non-essential shops can open. 

“Hopefully, my regulars will be there but I really won’t know until I get out. Last time when I went out a lot of my regulars were self-isolating because we didn’t have the vaccine then. I hope now I see some people I haven’t seen for a long time.” 

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Big Issue vendor Lavinia Neda, 29, who sells the magazine on Llandaff High Street.

Lavinia Neda, 30, Llandaff High Street, Cardiff

“I miss it. I miss my pitch and I would like to be back again. I want to check on my customers and make sure they are all fine during coronavirus. I want April 12 to come quick so I can see them again. 

“I am looking forward to talking to people again and practising my English. I will be happy to see my customers.” 

Colin Arnold, 33, outside M&S, Nottingham city centre

“I’m looking forward to getting back out and interacting with my previous regulars and The Big Issue’s staff again.

“I’ve got a one-bedroom flat on my own and a support worker who I work with on a regular basis. But I do struggle. I suffer with epilepsy, anxiety and depression but being with The Big Issue helps. Being able to go into the office and interact with the staff is brilliant. 

“I’m into poetry and I’ve written a poem about getting back out again. That’s something I’ve been absolutely craving. I’ve been a previous drug addict and I’m craving getting out interacting with the public more than I will ever crave any drug in my life.” 

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Vendor Norma, who sells the magazine at Waterloo Station

Norma Jean Taylor, 64, Waterloo Station, London 

“I’m looking forward to seeing my people again and earning my daily bread. I want to meet my regulars to make sure they survived this mishap or whatever you want to call it.

“Some of my regulars were elderly and I worry about those who used to travel from afar – I guarantee some of them will be just working from home now because they will find that it’s better to do that than go back to work. 

“I’m looking forward to seeing other vendors and making sure they are okay as well as the customers. Our customers are important to us and we have missed them sorely because they make our day and we make their day.” 

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Cornell Toman, 52, WH Smith, Norfolk Street, King’s Lynn

Cornell Toman, 52, outside WHSmith, Norfolk Street, King’s Lynn

“I’ve not been selling since before Christmas. I live in Peterborough and the week before we were put into Tier 4. I couldn’t sell after that so I’m looking forward to getting back. 

“I miss my locals a lot. My dog Stephanie has also missed customers because they used to bring treats and dog food.

“Some customers have stayed in contact over the lockdown. I met a couple a few weeks ago. They bought me some food and dog food. They’ll be glad to see me out selling again.”

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London vendor Dave Martin (Credit: Louise Haywood Schiefer)

Dave Martin, 59, outside Tesco, Hammersmith, London

“I’m already back on my pitch, handing out cards for my art website. I have had a good welcome back. I know quite a lot of people and they’re really glad to see me. That’s what I’ve been missing when I’ve been on my own.

“When I get back to selling the magazine I hope I see everyone. You get a connection, you have a rapport and I hope everyone is okay with Covid going on. 

“The Big Issue’s staff have welcomed me back and I like to be here. It’s a social thing. It’s not just about selling the magazine.” 

Richard Cotterrill Exposure Photo Agency card 1420
Richard Cotterill My Pitch Exposure card 1420
Big Issue seller Richard Cotterill working from his pitch at Wadebridge, Cornwall. Image credit: Exposure Photo Agency

Richard Cotterill, 50, The Platt, Wadebridge

“I don’t know about other vendors but I’ve spent pretty much the last three months in a room on my own. Apart from when you speak to someone at Tesco’s or something.

“Having no meaningful contact with people has been really difficult. You miss the daily chit chat with people when you’re on your pitch, which we have all learned now is not meaningless. 

“I’m also looking forward to having some sort of structure to the day. I miss getting my bag ready for the day and going for a bit of breakfast and then going out and seeing regular people. 

“It will be nice to go for a wander down the high street and be able to sit somewhere and have a cup of tea. I’m also looking forward to going to the library and using the computer there. Not all vendors have their own access to the internet, its little things like that.”

Mark Morgan
Bournemouth vendor Mark Morgan

Mark Morgan, 54, The Square, Bournemouth

“I’m looking forward to seeing my customers again, my regular ones.

“Where I am I’ve got quite a few older customers and they are very loyal. It will be good to see them again. 

“It will be good to be able to go shopping again and get clothes and things like that. 

“I like to play Snooker now and again but I haven’t been able to play for a while so getting into a Snooker hall with a couple of friends will be good. 

“It’s been hard for people. Just to get out, mingle and see people again. You don’t realise how much you miss it until it’s gone.” 

Big Issue vendor Jade Thompson 23, who sells near Salisbury Library, wants to tell her story
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Big Issue vendor Jade Thompson 23, who sells near Salisbury Library, wants to tell her story

Jade Thompson 23, Salisbury Library, Salisbury

“The thing I’m most looking forward to when lockdown is over is being able to sell my Big Issue so I’ve got some money coming in when the charity shops reopen.

“I want to get myself a new feminine wardrobe and when I’ve saved up a bit more I’m going to be starting my gender transition. 

“There are different shops I want to visit. Charity shops for clothing, craft shops as I like to make things, I’m waiting for the crystal shop to open and all sorts of DIY shops so I can get a better range of products. 

“There are a hundred and one things I want to do but the main thing that I can’t wait for is to start my gender transition properly.” 

James Davis
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James Davis dressed up at Halloween. Image credit: Jake Morley

James Davis, 36, The Old Library, The Hayes, Cardiff

I’m looking forward to going back to my pitch. Lockdown has been a bit of a struggle. 

I miss speaking to people, selling the magazine and seeing all the other vendors. It will be nice to see my old customers and my regulars. 

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Michael Costello normally sells The Big Issue in Canary Wharf in London. Credit: Travis Hodges

Michael Costello, 76, Canary Wharf, London

“Having a regular income is a fairly obvious one but I’m looking forward to normality. It’s a great strain on the country having shut down. Most of all I hope things go back to normal. 

“There are plenty of things I can’t do, such as contact friends because the likelihood is they will be locked down.” 

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Big Issue seller Lee Welham has been unable to sell the magazine due to lockdown restrictions

Lee welham, 37, Round Church, Cambridge

“I’m really excited just to be out again. 

“When we were allowed out for the first time [in March] it was lovely just being out and seeing people again. I sat in a park and watched TV on a tablet. 

“That’s the main thing about The Big Issue. I can’t wait to see my customers, all the little businesses that I haven’t seen since Christmas and the thousands of students I haven’t seen. 

“I bought myself a printing kit during this lockdown so I can print my own face masks and eventually I’m going to make my own Big Issue tabard. 

“I’m looking forward to showing off some of these face masks that I’ve made and hopefully selling a few of those as well. 

“I’ve even got my magazine money ready so I’ve got enough to buy 50 magazines straight away from the off go. I’m just hoping for some nice sunny weather.” 

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Vendor return PPE Louise Haywood-Schiefer
London sellers Will Herbert and Mike Danks showed off vendor's new look for when they return to their pitches post-Covid-19

Mike Danks, 61, Finsbury Park tube station, London 

“Just getting out of the house, getting back into a bit of work and trying to motivate myself into doing something positive. 

“It’s definitely been a difficult year but I want to get back to seeing people at The Big Issue and customers. It will be nice to see people who I have gotten to know over the last few years. 

“I’m hoping there won’t be another lockdown.”

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Eamonn Kelly My Pitch 1433 Onur Pinar
Vendor Eamonn Kelly

Eamonn Kelly, 50, Trinity Street, Cambridge 

“I’m looking forward to just getting back out. Seeing people, selling The Big Issue, back to normality really. 

“I just want to get back out again because we have been locked up for six months. I’ve also been shielding so haven’t seen anybody. I look forward to seeing my regulars and selling the magazine. 

“I’ve been clean now for a year and I’ve got myself a brand spanking new place. I’m feeling good about the future, everything seems to be going okay and according to plan. 

“I just want to say that I can’t wait to get the magazine back up and rolling again and start selling properly.” 

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Vendor Mike McCall

Mike McCall, 52, outside WHSmith, Cambridge city centre

“It’s been boring really, I’m looking forward to getting back and doing The Big Issue. 

“Part of the reason why I always did The Big Issue, aside from having an income, was for something to do, nobody likes to be bored. 

“I’m looking forward to getting back. I find having way too much time really depressing. 

“It’s a bad thing to have too much time to wonder about inside your own head. I like to be out and about all the time.

“I’ve put weight on, sadly, I think many of us have. I’m looking forward to getting out and about and trying to burn some off.” 

Photo: Elizabeth Donovan

Martin Hawes, 60, outside M&S, Regent Street, Swindon

I’m looking forward to being back on my pitch with a welcome smile to welcome back all my regular customers as well as new ones.

“I’ll be back on April 12 and can’t wait to see everyone again. I listen to people and I connect with people. Selling The Big Issue isn’t all about money. It’s my way of dealing with my mental health problems as this third lockdown has had a very serious impact on me.

“I was hoping to go back to Thailand again in March of this year. That isn’t going to happen now but I hope to go in October 2021. 

“I was out there in March last year and I had to cut my holiday short by two weeks due to Covid-19. 

“I love Thailand and I hope I can go back when lockdown is over.” 

You can find your local Big Issue vendor using our online map.