Vendor Simon Gravell: “I worry I’ll be back rough sleeping”

The Norwich seller has been trying to use his magazine sales to help him move on as an antiques dealer but the coronavirus has affected both of his sources of income

Popular Big Issue seller Simon Gravell has been hit on two fronts by the coronavirus outbreak.

Known among his regulars for his big smile and his signature jester hat, Simon has built up a customer base on his pitch outside Topshop in Norwich that has allowed him to use his passion for antiques to start selling them at the All Saints Antiques Centre in the city.

He has been trying to build up his custom as a long-term way of developing a sustainable income to enable him to stop selling The Big Issue magazine, which was vital to helping him secure accommodation after he was rough sleeping a decade ago.

Simon’s passion for antiques has also seen him appear on BBC’s Antiques Road Trip while last year he took us through his wares for a feature in the magazine.

But with a lot of his money tied up in antiques and while being temporarily unable to sell the magazine directly on the streets, Simon insists that a long-term lockdown has him fearful for the future.

He told The Big Issue: “The antiques centre where I was selling closed down on Monday so that has affected my income but to be quite honest, last week it wasn’t worth opening anyway. I think one day they did one sale for £7 out of the whole centre. If this goes on for a very, very long period, and I’m talking more than three months, it will literally put me back to where I was 10 years ago sleeping rough.

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.

“But what I have got through my mind, which is a bit of a saving grace, is that at the moment all the local auction houses are closed anyway. If need be, I can just throw a load of stock back through to auction with the attitude of win, lose or draw to put money back into my pocket. All my money that I have earned has gone into the antiques, I take the money I earn from selling antiques and put it back in so I’m trading up, not taking profits.”

Even though he is not able to sell antiques at the centre or The Big Issue on his pitch, Simon has been in constant contact with The Big Issue’s sales and operations team in the area to support him through the lockdown.

He added: “I’ve got enough food for a few weeks and I still have a little bit of cash and money from iZettle sales of magazines is going to act as my nest egg.

“The Big Issue has been good to me and the office have rang me a couple of times to see if I need food or anything. I didn’t because I know there are other vendors out there who will need help more than me.

“I’m missing my customers. Take yesterday, for example, Monday is always my best day. As the hours were ticking by I was thinking how much money I was losing too.”

You can support vendors like Simon while they are temporarily unable to sell the magazine on the streets. To do this, you can subscribe for three months and have the magazine delivered right to your door, every week, order this week’s magazine from The Big Issue Shop or download a digital copy or make a one off financial contribution to The Big Issue.