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Popular vendor Karl misses the friendship he gets from selling The Big Issue

We’re supporting Karl King through the Covid-19 pandemic but he is looking forward to getting back on his pitch to feel the “self-respect” he gets from being a Big Issue vendor

Vendor CREDIT: Kumar Sriskandan / Alamy Stock Photo

Veteran Norwich vendor Karl King has insisted he is “forever grateful” to The Big Issue for the support he has received both on and off his pitch and said he can’t wait to sell the magazine again.

Karl, who sells the magazine in the St Benedicts of the Norfolk city, has been supported with regular cash payments by The Big Issue in the difficult period he has spent off the streets after we made the decision to temporarily halt sales in order to protect vendors from the coronavirus.

We have helped him by replacing his oven, which broke just days into lockdown, to keep the vendor eating well so he can maintain his physical and mental wellbeing.

The Big Issue has been a big contribution to my life, it has stopped it going down the toilet. I’m forever grateful for that

But, like many vendors in the Covid-19 lockdown, he admits that it has been “a struggle” and has been forced to rely on foodbanks and help from his parents too so he can keep his head above the water.

“The Big Issue has really helped me out with cash every week,” said Karl, who has sold the magazine in Norwich since 2009 after moving up from East London to break free of drug addiction.

”I also got a cooker and there is no way I would be able to sort that out the way things are at the moment. I’m grateful for that so I can cook hot meals because I had a microwave and I was eating everything out of that – it’s alright when you need to but I like cooking.

“It makes me happy being able to do things like cooking in my own home. It means a lot. It’s the little things that matter – when you’ve been on the streets you appreciate these sorts of things.”

Karl’s oven issue came to light following a chance conversation with The Big Issue’s East Anglia regional manager Jim Graver who has been supporting the vendor for many years.

That has continued throughout the Covid-19 pandemic with The Big Issue’s frontline teams providing regular contact to ensure that we can meet vendors’ needs during lockdown.

Karl added: “Jim in the office rings me regularly to make sure I’m okay, it’s really nice of him. I look at Jim as a really good friend, he’s always been there, always understand and supporting.

“He heard about the cooker through my mum funnily enough. My mum told him about it and he sorted it out for me which was a big surprise. It was a really nice thing for him to do, it’s nice to be thought of like that.”

Despite the support, Karl is desperate to get back on his pitch to be reunited with customers.

He was rough sleeping back when he first came to Norwich, joining The Big Issue on the recommendation of a man he met at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

Since then, he has worked hard to build relationships with his regular customers and conquer his drug demons as well as saving up his earnings to sort out his own flat.

The Big Issue has played a big role in his transformation, he says, and the friendship he has with his customers is equally important and much missed during these uncertain times.

Customers don’t have to do what they do when it comes to buying the magazine, they do it out of kindness. I miss all that

Karl said: “It’s boring not selling the magazine. It used to give me confidence and bring me out of my shell having to talk to people. It gives me that self-respect. The Big Issue has been a big contribution to my life, it has stopped it going down the toilet. I’m forever grateful for that. If it weren’t for The Big Issue I could be out doing anything – I could even be dead – but I haven’t had to go down that path.

“Sitting around all day wasting time when I could be doing something is stressful and depressing – doing The Big Issue stops all that. The devil finds work for idle hands is the saying. I’m missing being out there – it’s what I do and what I enjoy doing.

“It’s probably the most sensible thing I have ever done. The Big Issue has given me something to look forward to and help pass the time in the most constructive way. I’ve got a lot of gratitude and I’ve made a lot of friends.

“I’m missing my customers and the conversations, the friendship, the understanding we have. They don’t have to do what they do when it comes to buying the magazine, they do it out of kindness. I miss all that.”

We can only keep supporting vendors like Karl with your help. You can help us support Big Issue vendors by buying one-off issues or subscriptions from The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

You can keep us going by subscribing to the magazine to receive it every week directly to your door or device. Head to bigissue.com/subscribe for more details.

You can also get a copy in stores for the first time. Head to Morrisons, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, McColl’s, Co-op, Asda or WH Smith to grab the latest issue.

Image: Kumar Sriskandan / Alamy Stock Photo

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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