02.02.2016 The Big Issue is kindness….

Our Managing Director blogs on her tiny taste of life selling The Big Issue.

It’s #VendorWeek this week, which exists to promote the work of The Big Issue and INSP (International Network of Street Papers), and to raise awareness of the wider issues around homelessness.

When I was approached to get involved with The Big Issue Cymru’s campaign in Wales, it was an easy decision for me. As a business, we have worked closely with the brilliant, committed team in Wales for a while now. A few years ago we took part in an eye-opening Big Sell Off challenge and we were proud to sponsor the inaugural Welsh Vendor Awards in 2015.

During the Big Sell Off the Brighter Comms team were paired up with vendors and we competed against each other to sell the most amount of copies. This time the challenge was slightly different; spend an hour alone on a pitch, with twenty copies to shift.

The challenge took place over lunchtime so I was optimistic of a decent result. I’d picked up lots of sales tips and techniques last time, so felt as if I had a bit of a head start on the lovely gang who had also volunteered their time for this great cause.

We drew our pitches from a hat and I pulled out Queen St station, which I was happy with – plenty of footfall there of a lunch hour, right? I donned my guest vendor tabard and, clutching my copies of the magazine, optimistically marched to the station.

It was a freezing cold day, but the rain held off and I felt sufficiently wrapped up in four layers and a hood.

It didn’t start well. I lost count of the number of commuters that walked straight past me without even acknowledging me or making eye contact. I had prepared a winning smile and “Big Issue sir/madam?” patter, but after over fifty people either ignored me or shook their head, I started to lose heart. Even worse were the dirty looks and people who actively crossed the road or walked in a different direction to avoid me. It was searingly cold and windy and I hadn’t even shifted one copy. I thought I was nearing the end of what felt like an age-long shift, when I checked my watch and realised I was only twenty minutes in. My heart sank.

Lovely Claire from The Big Issue appeared and asked if I wanted to move to a pitch on Queen Street, and I jumped at the chance. It’s worth noting that vendors don’t get this opportunity in real life. If they are having a bad day or the pitch is quiet, their only option is to take a break or give up and come back tomorrow.

Determined to make the most of my remaining forty minutes, I took a deep breath and launched my best charm offensive on shoppers coming out of the nearby Sainsbury’s or visiting the cashpoint outside. Thankfully, I slowly started to shift copies. Ok, so I may have slightly cheated by texting a friend whose office is nearby, who quickly came and kindly bought a few copies. But as all the money raised goes directly to fund The Big Issue Cymru’s work supporting vendors (a service that has seen its Government funding cut completely), I didn’t feel too bad.

When the hour was up I’d sold ten copies including one to myself.

I was tired from being stood on my feet constantly, dispirited at the amount of rudeness I’d encountered but heartened at the moments of kindness, at the smiles, the polite “no thank yous” that interspersed the blank stares and withering glances.

To the maths lecturer from Cardiff University, and the lovely Iranian man with his toddler daughter, and debt adviser from Shelter who stopped and talked to me as well as buying copies – THANK YOU. It’s people like you, the people who take the time to talk to vendors and treat them as human beings, that make it possible for the Big Issue to change lives.

Back at my warm desk, nursing a steaming cuppa, I’ve been reflecting on how important a basic level of human decency is to people that are just trying to make an honest living. If you don’t have change, don’t have time to stop, or already have a copy, try and remember that a polite “no thank you” and a smile go a long way. It may not always be possible to buy a copy, but remember that vendors are just looking for a hand up, not a handout. And if you can’t spare the cash, spare a thought and a smile. They cost nothing, after all.