Big Issue vendors across Wales are struggling with financial pressures and loneliness as they cope with the fall out of the country’s second lockdown.
As part of the two week “firebreak” lockdown – which has seen Wales return to almost the same restrictions as the UK experienced in March – vendors have been unable to work since Friday, October 24.
“It’s financially very difficult,” said Mark Richards [pictured above], who usually sells the magazine in Cardiff. “I’m just taking it day by day, really. It’s all I can do.”
All Big Issue vendors are self-employed traders who buy their magazines for £1.50 and sell them for £3, so if they cannot get out to sell they have no way to make money. Though The Big Issue is providing weekly vouchers to tide them over while they cannot work, it can’t cover their normal earnings.
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For Mark, this week would usually have been a busy one. A fan of Halloween, he would normally be dressed up on his pitch as the Grim Reaper or Count Dracula.
“That’s out the window,” he said, adding that he still hopes to be able to wear his Santa or snowman costume for the Christmas buyers.
“I hope we can get back for Christmas. We just have to wait till November to find out what the situation is. I just have to be patient and hope things improve.”
It’s not only the money that Mark misses. He’s used to helping out in his neighbourhood – whether that’s offering directions to tourists or giving elderly people a hand with their shopping.
“I’m missing my customers, I always know they’re going to stop and say hello,” he said.
Thirty miles north-east, in the Valleys town of Cwmbran, Vince Lewis is also missing his place at the heart of the community.
“I like doing The Big Issue, I like meeting people,” he said. “And I miss a lot of people. I find it hard. Selling The Big Issue is my method not to drink.”
Vince said he’d still not managed to catch up with many of his regulars after the first UK-wide lockdown, before Wales went back under strict restrictions.
“I want to get out there, I want to see them,” he said.
“I’ve been here five years, so I know these people inside out. I want to see them. You’ll never starve in Cwmbran. They’re very good people.”
Vince and his partner are currently holed up in their small flat, which they saved up for through selling The Big Issue.
“It’s hard at the moment, because I’ve got to pay our rent, and I get worried. But the landlord’s not been too bad. He knows the situation and he knows I’m working to earn money,” he said.
“The Big Issue has been a big help to me. [The weekly vouchers] take a bit of pressure off. It’s not a lot of money but it helps me to get by. It helps me pay my rent so I don’t have to worry as much about that.”
Welsh Sales and Operations Manager Tom Watts said that his team have spent the last week calling vendors and making sure they were receiving their vouchers to help with living costs.
“It is a difficult time for the vendors, because they are all self-employed. So they’re not able to make any money, apart from the vouchers,” he said.
“Over the past week, we’re trying to speak to as many vendors as we can. That’s part of our work now as well – making sure everyone’s okay and offering emotional support.”
Looking ahead, Tom hopes that the “short, sharp” Welsh lockdown will be effective and stop them from facing strict restrictions around the busy Christmas season.
“The hope is that because we’re locked down now, it means we won’t have to lockdown at Christmas,” he said.
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