Big Issue Vendor

How The Big Issue helped its sellers get through 2020

The Big Issue has always been a hand up, not a hand out. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, frontline teams had to mobilise like never before
Big Issue vendor Craig O'Shea in Truro Photo: Laura Harris

Big Issue sellers have faced their hardest year ever in 2020.

For the entire first lockdown, sellers across the UK were unable to work. When – after 14 weeks – they were finally able to get back on the streets, they faced fewer customers and fewer commuters.

The lockdowns didn’t stop there. Further restrictions in England, Wales and Scotland have cancelled work for hundreds of vendors at a time.

Tier 4 has taken income away from hundreds of Big Issue sellers. Support The Big Issue and our vendors by signing up for a subscription.

And for those in the south east of England and Wales, their final week of earning before Christmas was cancelled at short notice. With a lockdown also coming in Scotland on Boxing Day, the year will finish on a desperate note for many who rely on selling The Big Issue to provide for themselves.

As micro-entrepreneurs who buy the magazine and then sell it on to make a profit, Big Issue vendors can’t make any income when they aren’t working.

The Big Issue has always offered a hand up, not a handout – but in this extraordinary year, an extraordinary response was required.

In March, The Big Issue’s frontline teams mobilised like never before to make sure vendors could survive the lockdowns. A huge programme of subsistence payments was rolled out across Britain to provide a safety net.  

But the challenge wasn’t just economic. Vendors also faced loneliness and boredom.

With support from Big Issue subscribers, the magazine worked to offer practical solutions for vendors’ physical and mental wellbeing.

These are just some of the stories behind that essential work.

Pamela Clark
Pamela Clark hero
Pamela Clark

Digital lifeline

Whether video chatting with friends and family, keeping up to date with news, playing games or watching Netflix, a laptop has been a lifeline for many of us during lockdown.

In April, Brighton and Hove vendors Pamela Clark and Paul Clarkson were living in “depressing” emergency accommodation. Stuck inside in a single basement room that didn’t even get TV reception, they were both struggling with boredom and claustrophobia. 

“To not be selling the magazine at the minute has been depressing and there have been some down, lonely days,” said Pamela.

So, as well as supporting them with supermarket vouchers and cash, The Big Issue also bought a laptop for Pamela. It allowed her to contact family, and for the couple to pass the time watching films. Pamela also started a lockdown diary.

Giovanni Casadio
Giovanni Casadio hero
Giovanni Casadio

Bournemouth vendor Gio Casadio used the laptop The Big Issue bought him to continue his studies – in pursuit of his dream of becoming a car mechanic. 

“I want to open up my own garage to work on cars, outboards and all kinds of vehicles really,” he said. “I’ve got experience doing it in the past but I have forgotten quite a lot because I was on tablets for my mental health that have affected my memory. I’m finding it a bit scary getting back into education but Kirsten in The Big Issue office has been a big help.”

Jacques Lamma
Jacques has been housed in a London hostel throughout the Covid-19 lockdown

Art therapy

London vendor Jacques Lamma was sleeping rough and sofa-surfing before coronavirus hit. He said he felt safer after getting a place in a hostel to shelter during the pandemic. But being cooped up in one room was a big challenge for his mental health. 

The Big Issue ensured he could keep his head buried in a book with a number of short story collections sent his way. We also ordered him acrylic paints, brushes and a watercolour pad to keep Jacques entertained while he is trying to fill his time in his hostel room. 

“It has been helpful because I like reading and when I have been on the streets that is all I used to do. It’s an escape for me and it also fills the time,” said Jacques.

Nourishing the soul

Exeter vendor Sean rediscovered his love of cooking when he was in emergency accommodation this year. After The Big Issue bought him the necessary pots and pans, he was able to make tasty and nourishing food for himself.  

“The new pots and pans have really expanded what I can cook,” Sean said. “I like experimenting with food and trying out different flavours, herbs and spices and being able to plan, prepare and cook a meal has helped me to fill my time. I’d like to say a massive thank you to The Big Issue for their support, it’s been absolutely brilliant.”


Keeping cool

When Richie’s freezer broke – taking with it £200 worth of food – it was a major crisis for the Lincoln vendor. 

“To other people it’s just a bit of food but when you have waited 11 weeks to sort out your Universal Credit it’s difficult. I might as well have just drawn the money out of the bank and set fire to it,” Richie said. 

He said he was grateful to The Big Issue for coming to the rescue quickly by getting him a new freezer and a supermarket voucher to restock with food.  “I’ve got some amazing friends to help me and The Big Issue has been absolutely phenomenal,” he added. “I really do want to thank them for supporting me.” 

Listen to Richie’s appearance on The Big Miss You podcast here.

Big Issue vendor Amanda Hill Cardiff credit David Wagstaffe
Amanda Hill Image credit: David Wagstaffe

Row for it

Early this year, before the lockdowns hit, Cardiff vendor Amanda Hill had already been hit by ill health. She’d been suffering with arthritis in her back as well as a series of chest and throat infections, which led to anxiety and depression. 

To help her work on her mental and physical health, The Big Issue got her a rowing machine. “Years ago I had a rowing machine so I’m hoping that if I take it slowly I can build up the strength in my back a bit and lose some weight at the same time,” she said. “I also get depression and anxiety as well so exercise is good for that too.”

Jack Richardson 1401 My Pitch Frankie Stone
Jack Richardson Photo: Frankie Stone

Escaping into a good book… or 20

Bristol vendor Jack Richardson reads to combat depression and the speed at which he goes through books is remarkable. Just one month into lockdown, he’d read all the 150 books he owns, some for the sixth time. We gave him a £30 voucher to top up his collection so he could stay in good spirits while self-isolating. 

“The book voucher is a very big help for me,” said Jack, who is a big fan of Warhammer 40K, Terry Pratchett and sci-fi and fantasy books. “I read faster than most people I meet and I can get through three or four books a day, my depression while in lockdown responds very well to burying my head in a book.”

Craig O'Shea outside his pitch at Mallets in Truro
Craig O'Shea Truro
Craig sells the magazine outside Malletts hardware store in Truro and he insists it "makes life worth living again" (Credit: Laura Harris)

Moving forward

Earlier in the year, the government moved to get all rough sleepers into temporary accommodation in an attempt to keep them safe from the coronavirus. 

But initially Truro vendor Craig felt safer staying outdoors in his tent. The Big Issue worked hard to keep supporting him. They provided him with solar-powered phone charger to keep his mobile usable for emergencies and to remove the need for him to search out a power point to charge. 

By June Craig managed to build up a rapport with staff at Cornwall Housing and decided to make the move to Carrick Cabins – 11 temporary pod homes in the Carrick House car park in Truro. The joint venture between Cornwall Housing and St Petrocs gave Craig the chance to come in off the street, get a roof over his head and space to cook and clean.

In August he moved into his own flat. “I think the Covid-19 pandemic helped me move forward with my life,” said Craig. “I would say to anyone who is in the same position I was – ‘never say never’. Follow your dreams. That is what I’m doing and they are slowly coming true.

Big Issue vendor Robin and his dog Tinks, who he says has been a lifeline for him during the lockdown. Photo courtesy of Robin Price

Happy pets

When the second English lockdown hit in November, Weston-Super-Mare vendor Robin Price was worried about how he would feed his dog Tinks and his cockatiel Lola. To his enormous relief, his local Big Issue office organised for a massive delivery of pet food. 

“It will make a hell of a difference,” Robin told us. “Looking at all that food, it’s going to last Tinks at least the lockdown, let’s put it that way. So, I haven’t got to worry about her. That’s one less worry off my head.” 

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