A day in the life of a Big Issue vendor

Active members of their communities, but still on the margins, Big Issue vendors offer a unique perspective of daily life in Britain in 2015

Jeff Knight (pictured above)
Bristol (Clifton Triangle)
I like getting out on the streets early. It’s a habit from my days being on the streets all night, sleeping rough, even though I have someone to stay with at the moment. I’ll be out there at 5am, and I’ll start selling the magazine to catch the kind of people around very early in the morning. It’s good to get a smile and a “Good morning”. That gets the day started.

Janet Bowers
Bournemouth (M&S, Westbourne)
I get up at 6.30am. I’ve got three young children, aged 11, nine and five years old. I’ll make their breakfast and pack their lunchbox with sandwiches. Then it’s time to get them off to school. The kids have moved schools three times in the past two-and-a-half years because of our problems with housing and homelessness. It started back in 2006 when I signed our council house over to someone else. Since then it’s been dealing with problems with private rented places and temporary housing. Our current landlady has told us she’s selling up, so my mornings have been full of calls to social services and to Bournemouth Churches Housing Association, to see where we might be able to go next. Anyway, after I get the kids to school I’ll start thinking about getting to my pitch to start selling the magazine. It’s been a big help while things have been tough.

Peter ‘PJ’ Cowles
Darlington (High Row)
I’m working really hard at the moment to set up my own business. My plan is to set up a window-cleaning and odd-job business, and The Big Issue has been helping me get going and earning a living after a difficult time. Some days I try to do both jobs. I might sell the magazine very early in the morning. But by 10am I’m doing my rounds, cleaning windows in the local area – wherever there’s work and wherever I can get to on my bike.

Ahmed Abdi
London (Baker St)

I sell the magazine at Baker Street Tube station. So about 9.30am, when the Sherlock Holmes Museum opens, I start getting a lot of tourists asking directions to 221b Baker Street. It’s just along the road, so I’m always happy to help and have a chat.

Stuart Drucker
Cardiff (Charles St)
I’ve been selling the magazine since 9am but 11am is the time I hit my stride. There are more people around, and that’s when I start selling quite a few magazines. I’m always very polite and friendly because I only have the mornings to sell the magazine at the moment. In the afternoons I’m going to counselling sessions. The Bridge programme – something the Salvation Army arranged for me – has helped me put drugs behind me. I’ve been completely free of drugs for a while now, and I’ve got The Salvation Army and The Big Issue staff in Cardiff to thank for that – they’ve been so supportive.

I’ve been selling the magazine since 9am but 11am is the time I hit my stride

Andrew McGarry
At the moment, I usually need to stop at lunch-time to make some phone calls. I’ve been organising a lot of charity events in Towcester – a jumble sale, a barn dance and concert in a church hall. I’ve been helping raise money for the local church group and the Hope Centre, a day centre in Northampton. When I first came to the town, people were so generous to me, helping me out with things like a duvet cover and a little TV set for my bedsit. So I thought it’d be great to put something back and help others. I’m a bit of local celebrity here now.

Bill Webb
Bournemouth (Car park, Avenue Rd)

When I’m finished selling I’ll head to Boscombe, a suburb of Bournemouth, where I’m living. A nice way to end the afternoon is heading into Chaplin’s Cellar Bar. It’s an eclectic crowd with a lot of artistic types. I’ve got involved with organising Bournemouth Emerging Arts Fringe festival, and a few fellow organisers will usually be in Chaplin’s. We have stuff to talk about before the festival starts in mid-October. By 5.30pm or 6pm it’s time to head home. I’m not there so much for the drink as for the socialising.


The Big Issue is a multi award-winning magazine, edited by the British Society of Magazine Editors (BSME) current Editor of the Year.

John Miller
Edinburgh (Market Street)
I’ll stop about 1pm for a break and head to the café across the road for a coffee. It’s the City Arts Centre Café, and they do me a free latte. They’re a very friendly bunch in there, and it’s very nice of them.

Ollie Bain
Birmingham (Living Wall)
I usually stop about 2pm. I’ll have been speaking to customers all morning. A good rapport is really important, and I enjoy chatting and joking with them about football and life in general. So by 2pm I’m ready to get a bite to eat – a tuna and sweetcorn baguette for 99p from a place called Eat For Less – and I’ll count up my takings for the day. Pigeon Park, a lovely square next to Birmingham Cathedral, is a good place to sit down and take stock. If I see I’ve made enough money, it might be time to call it a day or I might need to work on. Making ends meet is difficult these days.

Amy Stevens
London (Euston Station)

I actually sell the magazine indoors at Euston Station, a pitch arranged with Network Rail. At 3pm it’s finally gone a bit quiet – as quiet as it ever gets in Euston – so I stop for a break. I’ll get a sandwich from Sainsbury’s, then go and sit in Russell Square or one of the smaller squares around the area. It’s nice to take a bit of time by myself. Then it’s back inside Euston for the rush that builds towards the end of the afternoon.

Robert Brownridge
Glasgow (Central Station)
I take a break for a coffee at Gordon Street Coffee next to my pitch. I know the owner and the people who work in there, and they do me a free coffee once a day. It’s good of them. I have a bad leg now, so it’s nice to sit down at one of the tables outside the café for five or 10 minutes.

For the past two years I’ve been sleeping in a tent. I’m an avid reader and I’ve got a battery-powered lamp

Colin Davey
Dover (Biggin St)
Once I finish selling the magazine at 6pm, I meet a mate and we go for a few games of pool to either The Roman Quay or The Duchess pubs. Very relaxing. I’m not bad, even if I do say so myself. Over the years a few pub teams have asked me to play but I only like to play for fun. Anyway, by 8pm we’re usually done. I’m getting too old to be out any later than that.

Alan Massey
Worcester (The Cross)
I’m safely back in my tent by 9pm. For the past two years I’ve been sleeping in a tent 15 minutes’ walk outside Worcester. It’s tucked away in a quiet place where no one bothers me. I’m an avid reader and I’ve got a battery-powered lamp so I can read at night. I’m a big Stephen King fan, and I’ve just started one of his thrillers called Mr Mercedes. I make myself a cup of tea on my gas stove burner and read until I fall asleep. There’s a road about 30ft above the tent, so I can hear the distant sound of traffic. But by 11pm it’s gone pretty quiet, so I usually get a good night’s sleep right through until about 6am.

Jack Richardson
Bristol (Park St)

Since Christmas I’ve been living with a wonderful lady who offered to put me up. So I’ve been able to spend my evenings with her or working on my Open University degree in sociology and psychology. At around 8pm I’ll start reading and researching. At the moment I’m looking into the barriers socially isolated people face engaging with services. It’s the first time in an awfully long time I’ve been able to stretch my brain. I’m trying to keep Big Issue sales up to keep my head above water while I work towards my degree.

Sammy Rea
Dundee (Keiller Centre)
I share a small resettlement flat in a hostel with one other person. Thankfully we get on like a house on fire. It is pretty much like Groundhog Day for me every day. By 10pm I’m usually in my room. My room is small. There is a bed, a TV, a shelf for toiletries and a wardrobe. By 11.30pm I’m usually falling asleep. I have been here eight months and they are keen for me to move on to a self-contained flat of my own in a hostel. I don’t know how long it will take – it could be next week, next month or next year. It’s a waiting game.

Keith Donohoe
London (Covent Garden)
I’m sleeping rough in a park in south-east London, not far from the river. I was staying in a room but it was too expensive. I need to be in London so I can see my young son. It can be tough getting to sleep on a park bench in London. I have two sleeping bags – one to put under myself and one to get inside. But it’s getting cold at night, so I usually only get a couple of hours’ sleep, from about 3am until about 5am. I do a bit of reading at night. It’s quite brightly lit in the park, so I’ll read the newspapers and then I’m tired enough to fall asleep. Before you know it, it’s time to get up and out and on with the day.

Vendors spoke to Adam Forrest and Adrian Lobb