Chefs, poets and city workers – Ex-Big Issue vendor success stories

Some Big Issue vendors stay with us for a long time – as long as they need us. Others use the magazine as a stepping stone to move on to new starts. Here are some of our great success stories...

Marvina Newton
Youth Charity Boss

Marvina Newton, 30, began sleeping rough on the streets of east London when she was still a teenager. She decided to sell The Big Issue to earn an income, before finding a job as a waitress and beginning to build her career.

Marvina – pictured above, speaking at The Big Issue’s 25th birthday party in London – now lives in Leeds and is a part-time biomedical technician. She has taken a career break to focus on her charity Angel of Youths, helping disadvantaged children.

Her aim was to stop other teenagers ending up in the predicament she found herself in over a decade ago. “Whether they’re white, black or whatever, I can see a little bit of me in them,” she says. “No one’s going to save you but you. You’re the superhero in the story – that’s what I got from The Big Issue. The only person I had was myself. I could have chosen to be a victim but I chose to sell as many Big Issue magazines as I could.”

Stan Burridge
Healthcare Champion for Homeless People

Stan is an expert on homelessness through his own experience: he slept on the streets of London and sold The Big Issue outside the old BBC headquarters in west London during the late 1990s. “Selling The Big Issue, I learnt I had an ability to get people talking, not only talking but listening as well,” he says. “I got to hear about other people’s lives, marriages, divorces – it led me to where I am today.”

Selling The Big Issue, I got to hear about other people’s lives – it led me to where I am today

Now in his early 50s, Stan is a project leader at Pathway, a charity that works within the NHS to get homeless people and other marginalised groups better healthcare. “I get a real sense of pride when one of the people we help gets a job or when they make a massive step forward in other areas of their lives,” Stan says.

“It’s the same feeling that The Big Issue has when one of their flock smashes through the glass ceiling and begins to fly. The Big Issue opened the door to me and countless others.”

Terry Gore
Housing Charity Manager

Terry, 51, used to sell The Big Issue in Wimbledon, and now manages Canterbury-based housing charity Catching Lives. “I started selling The Big Issue after I’d been sleeping rough for two years,” he says.

“It started to give me back my self-esteem. I’d become very isolated but selling the magazine meant I had to talk to people. That was the start of developing interpersonal skills that are key to the work I do now. It was the start of my route off the streets.”

Mark Dempster
Harley Street Therapist

Former addict, drug dealer and prisoner, Mark Dempster (above, right) turned his life around with The Big Issue’s help. After selling the magazine in London in the mid-’90s he went on to become a qualified therapist, and the 51-year-old now treats patients at his practice in Harley Street in London. He hails his time selling the magazine as the catalyst to his recovery.

“It felt empowering – it gave me the platform to put drugs and crime behind me,” Mark recalls. “I remember one day in The Big Issue office, a pal of mine called Paul, another vendor, came in and said he was going through a detox programme. I remember thinking, yes – I can do it, too. It was an important turning point, and The Big Issue was a very big part of that process.”

DID YOU KNOW…

Vendors buy magazines for £1.25 and sell them for £2.50. They are working and need your custom.

Joel Hodgson
Legal Eagle

Seven years ago Joel (above) was sleeping rough in London. Today the 27-year-old works for top City law firm Freshfields. He says the turning point was when he walked through the doors of The Big Issue in 2009: “It felt like someone was on my side for the first time in a while.” After a corporate placement at Freshfields, he got a job in the firm’s billing department. “The Big Issue turned my life around massively. The good thing is they give vendors the tools to help themselves.”

Ian Duff
Chef

Ian Duff, 49-year-old chef, combines selling The Big Issue in Bath with running his own catering business. Run as a social enterprise, Duff Cooks has even taken on other Big Issue vendors to help with the cooking and waiting roles. Ian says selling the magazine helped “make it all possible” and he now gives talks explaining the entrepreneurial aspect of The Big Issue. “People are amazed: not only are we making an honest living, we are all trying to move on from homelessness.”

Florian Ciobanu
Organic Supermarket Chef

Florian, 47, used to sell The Big Issue outside organic supermarket Whole Foods in Glasgow. Then at the end of 2014 he landed a job as a chef in the shop’s cafe. In 2012 he moved to the UK from Romania for a fresh start but when his newsagent business collapsed he lost everything. Selling the magazine outside Whole Foods led to a full-time job as a prep cook and kitchen porter. “I showed I’m not afraid of hard work and I think they recognized that,” he explains. “I’m very grateful to The Big Issue for all the support over the two years I was selling it.”

I showed I’m not afraid of hard work and I think they recognised that

Owen Baily
Gambling Campaigner

Owen, 34, began selling The Big Issue in Canterbury in 2006, when he was still struggling with a gambling addiction, hooked on the high-street bookmakers’ digital roulette games called Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). After The Big Issue helped turn his life around, Owen began campaigning for regulation of FOBTs and now works with many organisations to combat gambling addiction. “Selling The Big Issue gave me some stability back,” he recalls. “I realised I was getting the chance to run my own little business – it was the moment things began to change for me.”

Jo Adamson
Painter

Jo was known in Glasgow for many years as “the singing vendor,” cheering everyone up with songs about the magazine. Registered blind, Jo stopped selling The Big Issue because of her deteriorating sight. But she is now thriving at her first love: painting. She has exhibited at CASS Art in Glasgow and also set up her own online Etsy store to sell her work. “I don’t do depressing pictures – I do cheerful ones,” she says. “Since I left The Big Issue I didn’t think I could draw any more because I’m almost blind. So I’m very proud of what I’ve done.”

Caron Boulghassoul
Refugee Charity Manager

Caron, 42, sold The Big Issue in central London back in the early days of the magazine, from 1992 to 1995. Using it to gain some structure at a chaotic time, she applied to go to university in Lancaster, got a degree in social policy there and then went on to work with refugees struggling with homelessness. Today she is the project manager for Nottingham Arimathea Trust, finding housing for destitute asylum seekers and refugees in the city.

“Selling The Big Issue helped me get my self-esteem, a bit of structure in my life, and I met some very good people doing it,” Caron recalls. “The people I work with now find themselves in desperate trouble, and I can relate and empathise with them, because as a young woman I went through some of the same things.”

Selling The Big Issue helped me get my self-esteem

Viv Askeland
Tour Guide

Norwegian-born Viv, 58, was sleeping rough under London Bridge before she came to The Big Issue. She sold the magazine from the start of the 2000s until 2010, when she found a new role as a London tour guide. Part of the award-winning Sock Mob’s Unseen Tours team, Viv takes tourists on a journey through hidden parts of the city. “When I started selling the magazine it gave me a lot of confidence,” says Viv. “I realised how much I actually liked speaking to new people, and that’s what I’ve moved on to doing with the tours.”

Jon Brown
Children’s Book Illustrator

Jon, 37, sold the magazine in Bath up until the end of 2015, when he finished work on a series of drawings for a children’s book called Katy and the Rainbow Mermaid. Jon had painted a colourful dragon on the window of Waterstones where he sold The Big Issue, which caught the eye of author John West who offered him work on his book. “The biggest thing is confidence,” says Jon. “It got me talking to people, gave me the push to talk to them about my work.”