International Women’s Day: Lavinia’s journey from Big Issue seller to barista

This International Women's Day, we're delighted to share the story of Cardiff-based vendor Lavinia Neda, whose hard work and determination has transformed her life and the lives of her children.

Lavinia Neda came to the UK with her childhood sweetheart and young family in 2012 in the hope of a better life. Settling in Cardiff, she barely spoke a word of English but was determined to find a job, so began working as a Big Issue vendor.

She said: “The first time [selling the magazine] was strange because I spoke no English and it was hard to understand anything. I could just say hello and thank you. People asked me how much my Big Issue was and I had to learn how to say two pounds fifty. But I sold four magazines and I thought that was a good start so I came back the next day.”

Seven years and a lot of hard work later, Lavinia has not only learned English through attending language lessons arranged by the Big Issue, she has now landed her dream job.

“It was really hard for me to get a job before but The Big Issue helped me.”

After impressing employers on work experience placements found through The Big Issue, Lavinia has secured a job at vegan café Wild Thing. She started working there one day a week in October 2019 but has impressed so much that she now works three shifts a week.

It was my dream to have a job by the time my little girl started school and I can’t believe it’s happened.

“It was my dream to have a job by the time my little girl started school and I can’t believe it’s happened. It was really hard for me to get a job before but The Big Issue helped me. I never in my life thought I’d take a job as a barista and now I want to learn so much more.”

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Lavinia working at Wild Thing cafe

Lavinia  got the chance to develop her confidence by attending creative writing workshops and went on to receive barista training with local spot Little Man Coffee, before demonstrating her solid work ethic during a placement at non-profit organisation Valley 2 Coast Housing, where she picked up valuable office skills in the finance and customer service departments.

Lavinia really quickly adapted to cafe work, is extremely hard working and great at the work she does

Lauren Saunders, owner of Wild Thing cafe, said: “Lavinia really quickly adapted to cafe work, is extremely hard working and great at the work she does. Staff members love working with her for her incredible work ethic. We would love Lavinia to develop her skills to cover chef shifts in the future.”

Beth Thomas, Head of Partnerships and Programmes at The Big Issue, said: “Lavinia is a fantastic example of a modern working woman, juggling two jobs and two kids.

“When Lavinia came to us, she had aspirations of becoming a cleaner and felt her options of a ‘dream career’ were limited. Through the number of opportunities that we have helped Lavinia to access, she has been able to build her skills and confidence and now not only has a job in a café and is developing her skills in the kitchen, she now has the aspiration of setting up her own business”.

DID YOU KNOW…

Our vendors buy every copy of the magazine from us for £1.25 and sell it on to you for £2.50. Which is why we ask you to ALWAYS take your copy of the magazine. We believe in trade not aid.

Lavinia still sells The Big Issue on her pitch on a part-time basis outside Spar in Llandaff three days a week. Lavinia said she couldn’t have done it without her Big Issue customers and said getting to know people is the best part of selling the magazine.

She said: “It has taught me to be strong. It’s only in my head that I worry I can’t do things – now I know I can. I feel much more confident.”

Lavinia also credits her tenacity and drive to her weight loss journey, losing eight stone in six months through regular gym sessions. Find out more about Lavinia’s story in the below video.

Find out more about our vendors inside the magazine each week.