Big Issue sellers Andre Rostant and Lee Welham are gearing up to take on the London Marathon in aid of the Big Issue Foundation and the “life changing” support it offers.
Andre — who sells The Big Issue in Soho and Covent Garden — and Lee, whose pitch is in Cambridge, will use the October 3 event to raise cash for the organisation, with more than £400 donated so far.
Lee decided to run the marathon “because The Big Issue worked hard to raise over £1m to support [vendors]”, he said.
“We got looked after during lockdown. Without the support of The Big Issue we would have been screwed.”
Lee struggled with his mental health during the isolation of lockdown, and was financially supported by the Foundation after he found universal credit alone was too little to make ends meet.
“Even the conversations. It was great to have regular conversations with the team. You all treat me so well. Especially when I lost all faith in myself.
Advertisement - Content continues below
Advertisement - Content continues below
“Vendors don’t have ID or a bank account or even a phone. These things can be life changing and The Big Issue Foundation gives them everything they need.”
Lee was a Big Issue vendor for a period when he was 18, later returning to sell the magazine in 2018 following a relationship breakdown which left him homeless for nearly a year. He credits his sales experience working at funfairs from the age of 13 for his success on his pitch.
Since there is no Big Issue office in Cambridge, Lee became a franchisee, meaning he sells magazines to other vendors in the area and helps them stay in touch with staff.
“I try and do more than just sell the magazines,” he said. “I try and support new vendors with things like how to set up their card readers. Help them try to get ID. You can’t rescue everyone but you can try to help.”
Lee is determined to raise “lots of money” for the Foundation by running the London Marathon. “I’d love to be sponsored by Thomas Tuchel, the Chelsea FC manager,” he said. “I’m a big Chelsea fan and so it was great to see them win the Champions League. Just like the team, maybe he can bring the best performance out of me!”
Andre will join Lee in the 26-mile run after the Foundation helped him secure a part-time role as an office assistant at a law firm.
When he and his children were left without a home in 2012, Andrew took up selling the magazine to ensure they had enough income to get by. The Foundation later supported him into work experience at the firm — he has experience as a legal secretary — and his performance won him a job which he works three days a week while topping up his income and making sure he can be there for his kids by selling The Big Issue.
“I just really like the concept of The Big Issue,” Andre said. “You are in control of your own salvation. It is there to help you help yourself and I just think that’s a much healthier way of taking things forward.”
Being a vendor helped Andre create structure in his life, he said, which helped him avoid “wallowing in homelessness”. But when Covid-19 gripped the UK and he was unable to sell the magazine, he struggled without interaction from his customers, having built strong connections with the local community.
He was able to continue working with the law firm from home, and the Foundation gave him financial assistance to ensure Andre and his children did not have to go without during the pandemic. He hopes raising money by taking on the London Marathon will mean more people like him can be supported.
“Homelessness can feel all consuming but there is always a way to escape that feeling,” he said. “The Big Issue offers you a way to deal with or cope with being homeless.
“Beyond selling, the Foundation provides logistical support that it can be hard to find elsewhere. They can guide you to the best services or do something like help you get a suit if you need one for an interview. The Foundation is a facilitator.”
If you want to get behind Lee and Andre ahead of the marathon, you can sponsor them here.
Give your vendor a hand up and buy the magazine. Big Issue vendors are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. But, at the same time, they are micro-entrepreneurs. By supporting their business, you can help them overcome homelessness, financial instability and other social disadvantages that hold them back.