Jon Gregg, M&S Muswell Hill, and Parliament Hill Farmers Market

Jon is getting back into busking - and he has a few pop favourites in his repertoire

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I first started started selling The Big Issue in 1992. Before then I had studied for a diploma in Printing & Packaging, but the printing industry went through a lot of changes with computers coming in and the companies I worked for couldn’t compete with the prices of newer instant print stores. The company I was with at the time had to perform cutbacks and, as I was the last in, I was the first out. I was supposed to get my wages in lieu of notice but I never received them, which meant I fell behind on my rent. The landlord changed the locks on my flat and before I knew it, I found myself homeless. 

I came to the West End in London as I was familiar with the area, and I met a Big Issue vendor outside Green Park tube station called Dennis. He asked me to buy the magazine, but I told him I couldn’t afford one and explained my situation. He took me to the front line office the next day and got me signed up. I was later rehoused in a lovely one-bed flat on Holloway Road by the Big Issue housing team, where I still live now with my partner Rose (who also sells The Big Issue at the Sainsbury’s in Muswell Hill). 

I have tried to move on from selling the magazine a couple of times, but I keep coming back because there’s nothing like The Big Issue. I’ve worked in a few offices wearing a shirt and tie, but I definitely prefer selling The Big Issue because the customers are generally happy. They want the magazine and they want the engagement. And I really like the organisation. I believe in what they’re doing and I see the successes they’ve achieved with vendors, especially those who have been in a bad way when they start off. The Big Issue can make such a difference and it’s just a more positive environment to be in. I recently had the opportunity to sell at the Hammersmith Apollo for the Muse gig, which was a great experience. I even went live on TBI’s  Instagram at one point, and I felt so privileged being able to sell right next to the door as the customers came in, as this would never be allowed on a normal night. It’s moments like this you wouldn’t get anywhere else. 

The Big Issue were brilliant over the pandemic. They sent us Tesco vouchers every fortnight to keep us going with some food. Once we got over the initial shock of it all, I was quite happy sitting at home playing my acoustic guitar, writing songs and going on daily walks. I tried to open an eBay account to sell some of my clutter but the postage got really expensive, so as soon as I was able to sell the magazine again I jumped straight back into it. Thankfully, I already had a card reader, which was a great help as everyone was going cashless, and I want to say a big thank you to all my customers for accepting the use of card readers and continuing to support me.  

Selling The Big Issue helped me gain control over my life and taught me a hell of a lot about being streetwise and to be more savvy and business minded. I’m trying to get back into busking, which is something I would never have been able to do if it wasn’t for The Big Issue giving me the confidence on the high street to look people in the eye and sell the songs. 

The key is to have a sparkling repertoire of tunes which people know, like I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash, Angels by Robbie Williams or Oh, Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison. I have tried to play some of my own songs, but I definitely make more money playing Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks, so it would be great to get back out there and sing some more! 

Jon is in Muswell Hill Monday to Friday, and Parliament Hill on Saturdays

Interview: Lee Pillar

M&S Simply Food, Muswell Hill Broadway, London, UK