Today was a really tough day

Would you buy a Big Issue from this woman?

Would you buy a Big Issue from this woman?

Today I sold the Big Issue for an hour. I was a little bit worried about it, but not too bothered. After all, I have spent years in sales, and many hours on exhibition stands, so I’m not worried about getting people’s attention. I had realistic expectations; I knew a lot of people would ignore me but I still expected to sell about 20 newspapers.

My pitch was in Sauchiehall Street, a busy shopping area in the middle of Glasgow. It was 3pm on on a Wednesday afternoon, plenty of people around. It was cold, but it was dry. I wasn’t sure what to wear, but I thought it best to wear my normal work day clothes. After all, I’m not a real vendor, and didn’t want to pretend to be something I’m not. I thought that if people stopped to talk, I could tell them about Vendor Week and why I was supporting it, then that would be a good result. (Vendor Week is an international programme of events, activities and social media action that celebrates street paper vendors and challenges perceptions of poverty and homelessness.)

There were five of us in my time slot; myself, two men representing other third sector organisations and two members of the cast of Burnistoun, and we got a briefing from Robert, a regular vendor, before we started selling in pitches along the street. I didn’t know what a typical Big Issue buyer might look like, but I smiled and tried to catch the eye of anyone that came reasonably close to me.  “Would you like to buy a Big Issue?” Most people gently shook their head, some said a quiet ‘no thanks’ as they walked by.

It took about 5 minutes to get my first sale, from a young smartly dressed guy who was with a female friend.  He later tweeted about it, thank you very much @sppbest

That was it for about twenty minutes.  Then:

  • an middle aged man bought a paper from me  (yippee)
  • and another gave me some change
  • another middle aged man came up and talked to me, saying I didn’t look like a real vendor but he had read about Vendor Week in the paper and appreciated what I was doing. He didn’t buy a paper though, but he said he’d already bought one and I believed him
  • a young woman who had passed by earlier ran back to give me £5, said she didn’t want a paper but I should use it to ‘go and buy a cup of tea or something’,  then rushed off again to join her friends before I could talk to her
  • a woman brushed me off, saying she couldn’t read
  • a wee wifey asked if I was a star (she had come from the direction of the Burnistoun people)
  • a well dressed man stopped when I asked him to buy a Big Issue, told me he gave to charity, and that he used to be homeless (but he wouldn’t buy a paper)

So I spent an hour in the street, selling a good product I believe in, and I sold two papers. One of the other ‘anonymous’ volunteers sold three, but the Burnistoun guys sold 33 between them, and the Chvrches singer Lauren Mayberry apparently had people queuing to buy one from her!

It was a real eye opener to me. I was smartly dressed, I smiled a lot, I asked a lot of people to buy from me, very politely. I sold 2 papers in an hour which, if I had bought them to resell, would made me a profit of £2.50 in one hour. Its not exactly a living wage and if I had to that regularly, for hours everyday, it would be very hard indeed to keep myself motivated.

Robert, my vendor mentor, said that he would expect to sell around 2-3 papers an hour himself, in his good pitch by Central  Station (Gordon Street exit, say hello and buy a paper from him). He said that anyone can find themselves homeless, and that it was just as important for people to talk to the vendors and get to know about them and how they ended up on the streets. He is a lovely, friendly Mancunian, in Glasgow to be closer to his family. I’d like to have known more about him but we mainly spoke about selling the Big Issue. I’ll stop by his pitch and talk to him again soon.

So what did I learn from this experience? 

  • far fewer people bought a paper from me than I expected
  • (I am very naive)
  • being outside in the cold weather wasn’t too bad, but the lack of sales was soul-destroying
  • people saw the tabard, not the person 
  • people did acknowledge me when I caught their eye, they were polite but disengaged
  • celebrities get attention (and sales!)
  • the girl that gave me the £5 really warmed my heart (but I wished she had taken a paper to read)
  • I’m very proud of my home city of Glasgow for having so many more Vendor Week volunteers than any other participating UK city 
  • you cannot make a good living selling the Big Issue but if you stick it out, you have an amazing work ethic
  • I am very fortunate indeed to have a comfortable life

In conclusion, if you buy a Big Issue, you will not solve homelessness. If you read it, however, you will learn much more about the issues that homeless people face, and you may become more compassionate towards the homeless. You will also read some fantastic articles about important social issues that many mainstream newspapers barely touch, as well as celebrity interviews and film and music reviews.

So please start buying the Big Issue now! Don’t walk on by

and (pretty please??) sponsor me to help the INSP continue their great job of supporting the homeless to get a ‘hand up, not a hand out’  

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A Hard Sell!

Cute picture of a dog to get your attention.

Cute picture of a dog to get your attention.

Next week I’m going to be selling The Big Issue on the streets of Glasgow. When I was asked to do it, I accepted without a thought. After all, I’m a big fan of what the Big Issue Foundation does, and I buy the magazine regularly as I really enjoy the articles.

Of course, like everyone else, I do walk past a lot of vendors, usually uttering a polite ‘no thanks, I’ve already got one.’ I didn’t think I would find it hard to stand in the street and sell them myself though. After all, I was in sales myself for 10 years and so I know how to do it.

One thing I don’t like doing, however, is asking for sponsorship. I have done a few 10k runs for the personal challenge, but I do nominate a medical charity and I post up the details on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. I’m always touched by people’s generosity.

This time seems to be different. This time I am asking for sponsorship to help charities that help the homeless, to give them a chance to get back into society. This time people, with very few exceptions, seem unwilling to give.

Why is that? Why will people help others affected by a disease, or by floods, droughts, wars in far off lands, but they don’t want to help people on the streets in their own towns? Doesn’t charity begin at home? People are on the streets through no fault of their own. They are struggling from addiction, from mental disorders, from chaotic homes and violence. You can be pretty sure that if they ‘choose’ to be homeless then any alternative options they had to choose from must be pretty bad.

I am very lucky – I have no direct experience of the desperate situations so many in our society face, and neither do my friends and colleagues. Homelessness is not like cancer; although it can affect people from different social backgrounds, it’s really rather rare that it affects those from educated, middle class backgrounds. Maybe that’s why people are less willing to give. We don’t have a personal connection, and we assume that there’s a safety net for those that want to be helped. But it’s not that simple. This blog from a council housing officer might give you some idea of the circumstances in which people can find themselves.

I know my network is full of thoughtful, caring people. I know they are generous. Its impossible to support every good cause, and you have to make choices. I know I do.

However, if you do have a bit of money to spare after the Christmas bills are paid, please consider sponsoring me via this link:

If you want to help the homeless, but you don’t want to give them money, take a look at this great local charity The Invisibles. They collected nearly 1,000 sleeping bags from T in the Park festival goers and recycled them to the homeless. Awesome!

And/or buy a Big Issue the next time you see a vendor. It costs £2.50, the vendor will give you change if you don’t have the right amount, and its a much better read than Hello magazine.

Wow, its been a while since I’ve blogged, really need to do it more often! Thanks for reading my wee rant. 


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