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Town criers, tears and Stormzy: Big Issue vendors on their return

Big Issue vendors are selling the magazine for the first time in 2021 after lockdown measures eased. This is how their first couple of days back went

Will Herbert, 61, gets back to his Budgens Upper Street pitch in London.

Will Herbert, 61, gets back to his Budgens Upper Street pitch in London. David Parry/PA Wire

Big Issue vendors have been given a welcoming reception back to their pitches with everyone from Stormzy to town criers marking their return to the streets.

Vendors have been unable to sell the magazine on their pitches in 2021 after The Big Issue was forced to halt street sales due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

The long 15-week wait came to an end for sellers in England and Wales on April 12 with Scottish vendors set to follow on April 26.

It’s a significant step worth shouting about and that’s exactly what Truro town crier Lionel Knight did to alert locals of Big Issue vendors’ presence on the streets of the Cornish city.

“Oh yay! Oh yay!” Knight cried as he rang his bell. “Welcome back Truro! Lovely to see you all here…”

“Support our local shops and businesses and Big Issue sellers here in Truro!”

Local seller Nick Cuthbert said the town crier’s backing was a huge boost.

Cuthbert, 56, who sells the magazine outside Marks & Spencer at Truro’s Lemon Quay, said: “We had the town crier calling out for us this morning, it’s good to have him part of us, he helps us get the word out and makes us part of the community.

“It’s been great to see a few of my customers again and there have been people about on and off and it’s been quite busy. There were about 150 people on Lemon Quay sat around eating – the seagulls were having a really good time!

“There are quite a lot of people I haven’t seen for a year, I was hoping with all the vaccinations they would start to come back out but it’s early days yet.”

Big Issue Stormzy
Stormzy Shopping in London
Stormzy greeted Big Issue vendor LJ as the seller returned to his pitch on April 12. Image credit: Rick Findler / Story Picture Agency

One vendor was lucky enough to have a celebrity visitor – Elizabeth ‘LJ’ Littlejohn was photographed fist-bumping Stormzy in the press after the superstar rapper met him on his pitch outside the Chanel store in London’s West end.

The pair have struck up a friendship over the 18 months Littlejohn has been selling the magazine on his pitch.

“It was cool to see him, he’s a nice guy. He thanked me yesterday because he said I was the reason that he didn’t get a parking ticket!” said 45-year-old Littlejohn.

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“He’s a cool guy. I usually sell to Stormzy every month or so when I’m on that pitch.

“Whenever I see him we talk about fashion and music – he’s a great asset to the music business. I’m a big fan.”

The return was emotional for Pamela Clark in Brighton and Hove.

The 54-year-old lost husband and fellow Big Issue seller Paul Clarkson over Christmas and took over his pitch outside Sainsbury’s on Portland Road in Hove for the first time since his death.

“It was a bit 50/50 really,” she told The Big Issue. “I’ve had so many people come up to me crying and telling me that it’s good to have me there. He will never be forgotten and I am still hoping to hold a memorial and plant a tree for him in Stoneham Park not far from his pitch in June.

“I’ve seen quite a few regulars who have been keeping in touch with me since Paul passed away. They knew I was going back yesterday so it was nice to see them.

“One of the ladies had bought me an enamel badge of a pigeon – Paul’s nickname was ‘Pigeon’. It was so beautiful, it just meant a lot.”

Lockdown has been difficult for Clark. As well as burying her husband Paul in his native York earlier this year, she told The Big Issue she has had to manage moving into new accommodation and spells in hospital.

Four months was a long time to be away. But they all remembered me

Returning to selling the magazine was “good for me mentally”, she said.

Simon Gravell, 53, who sells the magazine outside the former Topshop store in Norwich, was feeling the strain of being back to work but was keen to make up for Christmas traditions even in April.

 “I’m aching, my back is killing me,” he told The Big Issue.

“It’s not been too bad. I got a Christmas card from one of my regulars and I don’t know whether to count it as one I missed last year or the first one I’ve got this year!

“I sold 31 magazines and I’m happy with what I’ve done. Not a bad first day’s work. It’s still early days but it’s something to build on.”I’m hoping to sell between 100 and 120 magazines this week, that’s my target.”

Not all Big Issue vendors were able to get back on their pitches immediately for The Big Issue’s big return.

Lavinia, 30, sells the magazine on Llandaff High Street in Cardiff. But lockdown easing, and non-essential retail opening, meant that instead of heading to her pitch as soon as it was allowed she had to dash to the local shops to buy new school clothes for her children, who grew out of their existing gear over lockdown.

However a day later, Lavinia was able to get back to selling the magazine for the first time since Christmas.

“I didn’t expect this many people to be happy to see me,” she told The Big Issue. “I thought my customers might change, because so much has changed after Covid. And four months was a long time to be away. But they all remembered me and I was really surprised.”

Lavinia previously secured a part-time job as a barista at local vegan cafe Wild Thing, and said she considered ending her time with The Big Issue to focus on that. 

But being back on her pitch for just a morning has changed her mind, she said.

“I know now I definitely want to keep selling The Big Issue for two or three days a week,” she said. “I get to speak to my customers and see people. 

“It makes me feel happy. My customers were happy too. I sold eight magazines in the morning, which was okay for a first day.”

Richie, who normally sells the magazine outside M&S in Lincoln, will have to wait until at least May to return to his pitch after being hospitalised with heart problems.

The 48-year-old has spent five weeks in Lincoln County Hospital but he had a message for his regular customers: “Sorry I won’t be around for a little while. My health has got to come first. I miss everybody and I cannot wait to get back. Thank you for all your support and kindness over the years.”

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