Big Issue sellers on 'edge of precipice' over work from home restrictions

Norwich Big Issue seller Simon Gravell 

Norwich Big Issue seller Simon Gravell - Credit: Ben Hardy

The livelihoods of Big Issue vendors in the city are being hit hard by Covid restrictions urging people to work from home.

Magazine sellers have noticed footfall decline massively in what is typically the busiest time of the year in Norwich. 

Rafael Casaer, 35, is homeless and has been selling the Big Issue in St Stephen's Street for four years having come to Britain from Belgium. 

He said: "The first two weeks of December have been very quiet compared to last year. People have less time to come out and people are on a tight budget.

"It's extremely difficult being homeless at the moment mainly because of the cold.

"I can withstand the rain but the cold gets into your bones and makes me feel all stiff. It's terrible." 

Rafael Casaer on the way to selling copies of the Big Issue in St Stephen's Street at 9am 

Rafael Casaer on the way to selling copies of the Big Issue in St Stephen's Street at 9am - Credit: Ben Hardy

With family dotted around Europe, the vendor said phone calls to relatives can be too expensive.

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Simon Gravell, 53, sells the Big Issue outside the former Topshop store in Haymarket and has been a city vendor for 12 years. 

His card reader tells him sales are down 21pc so far this month compared to last December.

Mr Gravell added: "Customer numbers fell straightway after the restrictions were announced. It was like a tap had turned off.

"Normally I would be out at 8am to catch people heading to work but it has been desolate.

"It used to really pick up at 9.30am to 10 but now it is not picking up until 11 then dying down again by 1.30pm." 

Norwich Big Issue seller Simon Gravell 

Norwich Big Issue seller Simon Gravell - Credit: Ben Hardy

Sam Marin, 23, who sells copies in Guildhall Hill, said he has been homeless in Norwich for three years after his landlord kicked him out when he was no longer able to afford rent.

"It's very quiet and I'm probably selling five to six magazines a day in nine hours," the Romanian-born vendor said.

A 20-year-old vendor, who did not wish to be named, has a pitch in London Street with her brother.

She said: "It's hard and you get very cold. I only have two regular customers at the moment."

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Big Issue founder Lord John Bird MBE - Credit: Archant

The magazine's founder Lord John Bird said: "We managed to weather the last 18 months but this Christmas our vendors' livelihoods hang on the edge of a precipice.

"Our vendors have no choice but to 'work from home' on the streets, which are, once again, quieter."

The history of the Big Issue

The magazine was launched in 1991 in response to the growing number of rough sleepers in London. 

Big Issue vendors buy the magazines for £2 and sell them for £4, keeping the proceeds to help work their way out of poverty.

This week's Christmas special of the Big Issue 

This week's Christmas special of the Big Issue - Credit: Ben Hardy

In 2016, the Big Issue reached 200m sales on its 25th anniversary and launched its online store. 

A total of £5.5m was raised for vendors last year.

And this week, the Big Issue's Christmas special is the 1,493rd issue of the magazine.

Co-founder Lord John Bird MBE, 75, is a member of the House of Lords who was born in Notting Hill.

He said the Big Issue's 1,300 vendors need urgent help, citing the "incredible generosity" of the public and businesses over the past 18 months.