Six Years Selling the Big Issue in Oundle

big issue sellerMarc, the town’s Big Issue vendor, stopped by No 1 St Osyth’s for a cup of tea as he does every Thursday lunchtime, and I joined him to hear his take on the crisis of homelessness, his experience and what he thinks of the ‘generous’ residents of Oundle, where he has been based for six years.

To qualify to sell the Big Issue, vendors must be homeless, in temporary accommodation, in danger of losing a home, or unemployed and facing financial crisis. Working with more than 2500 people each year, the magazine helps people, who otherwise wouldn’t have a source of income, to rebuild their lives, one issue at a time.

Marc started off selling the Big Issue in Peterborough, after being recommended by a friend at the St Teresa’s, a homeless shelter. St Teresa’s was a place of sanctuary and warmth for people like Marc, where they could get a cooked breakfast in the morning, and a bite for lunch in the afternoon, along with a cup of coffee.
However, the funding was pulled by the council, one of whose members said, according to Marc: ’As far as I’m aware, there are no homeless problems in Peterborough.’

‘What planet does this guy come from?!’ laughed Marc in disbelief. ‘If he was to go out at three in the morning, look in the doorways, he would see that there is actually a gaping need for a drop-in centre. But now, there’s nothing, which is a great shame.’

The councillor had responded to a petition drawn up by one of the residents living opposite the shelter who had filed a noise complaint. The people across the street in St Teresa’s were apparently ‘too noisy’. He won the petition.
‘Now imagine the irony when a funeral home replaced the shelter. It went from there being too many people and too noisy, to not many people and dead quiet!’ he said.

Marc was lucky enough to have moved on by then, however. It became increasingly apparent to him that there were too many people and too much competition selling the Big Issue in Peterborough. So he tried visiting Oundle for a change. He found the local residents ‘lovely, generous, and extremely nice’. After six years, he is now confident that he has ‘made a connection with them’.

‘Most people will greet me with open arms. Of course, some aren’t as accepting. But on the whole, Oundle residents are lovely, open people, they really are.’

For the best part of ten years, Marc was officially homeless. So he knows what it’s like, he has experienced it first-hand.

At present, Marc lives in a hostel with others in less-fortunate situations, like himself. ‘A couple of people who I have shared with have been a nightmare to live with,’ he admits. ‘But at least I have a roof over my head, now.’
Having experienced the hardship and humiliation of being homeless, he maintains a lot of empathy for those who remain less fortunate than he is now, and adheres to the motto: ‘Never look down on anybody, unless you’re helping them up.’

It is this good will that Marc shares with everyone that makes him a person that others want to help. He recounted a story of a man who bumped into him outside the Co-op during a particularly bitter winter day. They struck up a conversation, and the fellow noticed that Marc was shaking from the cold. So, he told Marc to follow him. They walked into the local charity shop, and he bought Marc a warm winter coat.

Marc currently sells the Big Issue from the corner of the car park next to the Co-op. He buys the magazines at a modest price of £1.25 and sells to his customers at £2.50, keeping the profit.

‘Every time I sell that magazine, that money goes to help homeless people. It gives me a little bit of pocket money as well. It’s not a job by any means, but it’s a hand-up, and not a hand-out.’

George Carmichael