Much-loved south London vendor Jane Burns once described herself as a “local landmark” selling the magazine on her Wimbledon pitch.
It’s no surprise, then, that she has already had a few emotional reunions with regular customers now that she’s back to work after a long 15 weeks away.
“It’s just so nice to be back out there and see my customers again,” the 54-year-old told The Big Issue.
“I’ve only seen a few of them so far but it was just so lovely to see them, and they were really pleased to see me too.”
Jane. who has been selling The Big Issue since 2001, found lockdown especially hard after vendors had to temporarily stop selling the magazine as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. She faced a long wait to start receiving Universal Credit payments and had to rely on support from her mother plus food parcels and vouchers from The Big Issue to get by.
The vendor had American bulldog-mastiff cross Caz for company, but said the time spent in isolation reminded her of the the nine years the former trainee accountant spent hospitalised after losing her right arm in a motorcycle accident in 1986 and her right leg to MRSA.
“It’s been doing my head in not working,” Jane said. “I’ve been chomping at the bit. And I wasn’t feeling too nervous about heading back to my pitch – I’ve been doing it too many years for that!
“Everything revolves around my work so I’m over the moon to be back. Life wouldn’t be bearable without it. After being stuck inside for so long, it is still my whole life.”
Sales have been relatively slow in the first few days back on her Centre Court shopping centre pitch, she said, but Jane is not worried.
“It’s really early days and a lot of people aren’t about yet,” she said. “It just means I get to look forward to seeing more of my regular customers in the coming weeks.
“Those I’ve already seen said they’d all been worrying about me and wondering how I was getting on.”
Jane noted that a lot of new customers were making the effort to come over and have a chat with her for the first time after weeks of beings stuck at home.
Like the hundreds of other vendors who returned to the streets to start selling the magazine again this week, Jane was given a welcome back kit by The Big Issue to ensure she was kitted out with PPE to keep her and customers safe from the virus.
The mask is taking some getting used to, she told The Big Issue, as smiling at passers-by is her winning tactic to draw the attention of potential customers, but believes safety is the top priority.
“I do think it’s important,” she said. “It shows I’m bothered about avoiding infection, both for me and my customers. It shows I’m going about my work in a responsible way.”
The vendor was saddened to hear about Street Cat Bob’s death in recent weeks, having known owner James Bowen when he was on the streets.
“I hope he’s doing okay. It’s just a shock,” she said. “But I know we’re all pretty resilient.”