TO mark the 20th anniversary of the Big Issue Cymru helping the homeless by giving them a job as a vendor, reporter NATHAN BRIANT got a taste of what it's like to sell the magazine in Gwent.
I ALWAYS knew selling the Big Issue would be tough – if only I could have had a pound for the number of times I have walked past a seller and not bought one, however much I wanted to read Joey Barton’s column.
But last week I got the opportunity to see just how tough it is to sell copies of the edition distributed across Wales, The Big Issue Cymru, on the quiet streets of Caerleon on a grey afternoon for just an hour as part of the magazine's Big Sell Off.
It did not help that Caerleon – as ever – was very calm and that there wasn’t too many people who could help me out.
But I was not a total failure: I managed to shift on a couple to some very kind people passing by but I was marching around the street, determined to sell them on. It couldn’t have been my sales patter that sold it to them.
I didn’t realise the selling of the magazine is quite so strict and regulated. I had the whole of Caerleon, and so I was cheating a bit - Big Issue sellers have a much smaller area on which they can operate.
They are allocated just a number of square feet, where they can sell from and every day they’re checked up on by people from the magazine to ensure they’re not selling on a larger patch than they're allowed.
I wasn’t sheepish; I did ask everyone who I passed whether they would like to buy one. I managed to sell a copy to a mum with her baby in a buggy. She might have been sympathetic towards me, or maybe I was (and am) just a good salesman.
To their credit, all of those people, young or old, who refused to buy a copy of the magazine from me were all immensely polite doing so. A boy who I approached noticed he shared the same surname as the cover star of that week’s issue, but unfortunately that wasn’t enough to make him want to part with his cash. Others walked past with a smile or a nod.
At one point, I dropped by a church hall of elderly people who politely listened, but did not buy any copies of the magazine. Rather than booing me out of their hall, though, I was met with a rather predictable, polite silence. I left shortly after that.
Taking part in the event across Wales just to see how difficult selling the magazine is were far more esteemed people than me. In Caerleon, I was joined by Roman Legion soldiers from its museum, who were dressed in their regalia and, I would claim, sold a lot of copies because of that.
The chief executive of the Welsh Air Ambulance, Angela Hughes, West End actress Caroline Sheen, and the Assembly Member for Aberconwy Janet Finch-Saunders all took part selling the magazine.
Others who took part included the magazine’s chief executive, Jim Mullan, and BBC comedian Paul McCaffery.
While a quick scan on Twitter shows that the Labour Assembly Member for Cardiff North Julie Morgan was far more successful than I was; she sold five copies in an hour.
Of those who took part in Caerleon, there was a count to see who had sold the most copies. I didn’t ask how many behind I the best seller was once I’d completed my hour. All I know is that I was not that best seller.
And a community awareness officer for the Big Issue Cymru, Claire Bissett, said: “Those that have took part were astounded by how difficult it is to sell and they also can’t believe how much Big Issue sellers are ignored.”
It was first launched in 1991 by John Bird, who himself had been homeless and wanted to help people out on the streets so they could earn their own legitimate income.
Ms Bissett said the magazine was launched so people could “help them to help themselves”.
The Big Issue Cymru followed in 1994 and it has 150 vendors; across the UK 100,000 copies are sold every week of the two editions.
The magazines cost £2.50 each and vendors buy each copy for £1.25.
A profit of £1.25 is better than nothing at all, and that they have to buy the magazine in the first place ensures both the seller and the magazine benefit. Essentially, it seeks to be a hand up rather than a hand out.
The Big Issue Foundation, which publishes the magazine, says it supports the vendors’ own micro businesses but that it does not operate a sale or return policy. Once the magazine is bought, it has to be sold.
They support and encourage sellers to keep making changes to their lives so they can move on from whatever difficulties they have had. Originally for the homeless, the magazine can now be bought by anyone who is having difficulty in their lives such as the unemployed.
And the magazine hopes to boost people’s self-esteem and help vendors reclaim citizenship, which they might have lost during tough times.
There are other ways to support The Big Issue Cymru. Anyone can volunteer and take part in the Support Your Local Vendor campaign. It is to raise awareness and try to get to people to know their nearest vendor.
For more information on the magazine, or to read article from the Big Issue Cymru, visit bigissue.com/tags/big-issue-cymru.