I had the pleasure and privilege to meet and work with some Big Issue vendors with the support of The Big Issue Foundation and their StageSwap campaign. This was a real insight into their lives and opened my eyes to some of the adversities they undertake. As I stood watching London pass by outside The Burlington House on Piccadilly I was struck by the huge division of wealth and poverty. So many on their mobile phones existing in their “portable offices” with no time to look up or acknowledge others around them. This experience was so helpful in order to encourage me to have respect for others!
There was an air of judgement throughout the day. Not only me feeling judged by others as soon as I put on my red Big Issue jacket but also me judging those for judging me. A sense of indignation came over me when trying to catch the eyes of strangers who were pretending they couldn’t see me or were too busy on their hand held devices. However this was better than the chosen few who felt the need to turn up their noses. In fact being ignored was preferred but was easily trumped by eye contact with a genuine smile!
Selling my first Big Issue gave me such a feeling of achievement. Unfortunately I had no change on me, as 2 local businesses refused to change my £5 note, but people were so generous and didn’t even think twice about letting me keep the change. There was real support from the people who stopped and they engaged with me with such compassion!
It was a novelty for me to sell The Big Issue for an hour and a half but I imagine this wears off very quickly and the smile and enthusiasm dwindles with it. But these vendors inspire me. They have decided to make a difference to their future and to take it into their own hands.
The Big Issue is a franchise business for each vendor and as with every business they buy their stock and then sell it. They pay £1.25 for every magazine and take the rest as profit to reinvest in their business, pay for travel and accommodation or replace their backpack.
I encourage people to support these local small businesses and help people change their future. I also urge those who are thinking of getting involved in StageSwap to do it. It will open your eyes and you will experience a new side to London.