Waking up in comfortable surroundings is a luxury I know many of my colleagues on this day may not have enjoyed before their long day's work. But, this particular early morning, I’m joining no ordinary workforce.
Countless people across our county are living in troubled circumstances, but as self-employed members of an innovative social enterprise they can change their lives for the better.
The Big Issue not only helps its vendors earn a legitimate income with “a hand up, not a hand out”, but assists in engaging them with support services relevant to their needs – such as registering with a doctor, setting up a bank account and finding suitable accommodation.
However, all must complete a series of training modules and agree to a strict code of conduct to uphold and promote the organisation’s philosophy and reputation.
As a first-timer, I receive five free copies of the weekly magazine to get me started, but from now on it’s a wholesaler to retailer relationship whereby additional copies can be bought for £1.25 and sold for £2.50 on a no-return policy.
Effectively, vendors are operating a micro-business – managing their own stock, sales and finances. And, with time and support, such employability skills can be accredited with a City & Guilds qualification.
Wearing my bright red tabard on Cornmarket Street, I feel exposed to the world and instantly notice a difference in how people view me – I’m certainly a marked man.
For some, it’s seen as a uniform that enhances my professional status, but for others, it’s (sadly) a reason to avoid me. Many new vendors have little experience of selling to the public and believe me it's survival of the fittest.
Even with a large constant footfall through the city centre, engaging with people is daunting and difficult.
But, I planned my approach and perfected my patter – remembering to be polite, stay positive and smile.
The stall peddling novelty merchandise opposite me seemed to be attracting more attention and it felt like I might be getting a wide berth – with only "No, thank you" ringing in my ears and eye contact at almost nil.
Just being acknowledged by fellow citizens is hard enough let alone bagging a sale, even with the likes of Doctor Who and Poldark featuring as cover stars on recent editions of the world’s most famous street paper.
But, you have to quickly learn to get over the constant rejection – it’s a numbers game and perseverance will pay off. Big Issue vendors are quite rightly proud of wearing their hard-earned badge and the positive steps forward they make day by day – with many heart-warming success stories of people making contact with family, achieving their aspirations and getting their life back on track.
After two long hours and with pretty sore feet, I managed to make a profit of just £6.25.
It may not sound like much, but at the end of the day, it could just make the difference between another night on the streets or a roof over the head of a vulnerable person.
So, next time you see a Big Issue vendor, be mindful that they’ve made an assertive decision to improve their circumstances and consider supporting them in this journey by buying a copy.
Not only will you be rewarded with the knowledge you’ve performed a good deed, but also an insightful and challenging read.