THE Archbishop of Canterbury has gone undercover to find out what it is like to be on the streets selling The Big Issue.
Despite selling only five copies of the magazine which supports the homeless, Archbishop Welby said that he had enjoyed his 40-minute shift, which took place recently.
“I was really nervous before I started, because I thought I was going to be conspicuous, and, surprisingly enough in my job, I hate being conspicuous,” he said. But his face mask and uniform of red baseball cap and tabard meant that most passers-by failed to recognise him.
“I was really struck that nobody met my eye,” he said “People kept their heads down. I could see people crossing the road. It’s really interesting.” He said that he could see what effect that might have on sellers who had been homeless, or had mental-health problems and had lost their self-confidence. “It really feels good when someone says they want to buy it.”
He decided to try the job after forming a friendship with his local seller, Lee Welham, while on six weeks’ study leave in Cambridge. Mr Welham, aged 37, is a popular figure on his pitch outside the Round Church in Cambridge, and has become a tour guide and tourist attraction in the city.
The former market trader is The Big Issue co-ordinator for Cambridgeshire. He said: “It was brilliant to show the Archbishop that everyone does treat the vendors well around here. I’ve built a lovely community. Each and every one of these people here comes and says hello to me every morning.”
The Big Issue sellers come from a variety of backgrounds, and face a range of issues, but all are experiencing the effects of poverty. They receive training, are allocated a fixed pitch to work, and have to adhere to a code of conduct. They buy magazines for £1.50 and sell them for £3, keeping the difference — which helps to provide them with a legitimate income.
The Archbishop said: “The Big Issue changes lives and changes society. Each time you stop for a chat with a vendor and buy a copy of the magazine, you are part of that change. I’m hugely grateful to have had the chance to go on a shift with Lee and get a glimpse of what it’s like selling the Big Issue.
“When we look at the life and ministry of Jesus — who famously said he had no place to lay his head — it’s clear that homelessness is an issue that matters profoundly to God. And that tackling poverty together is the essential work of a society where every person is truly valued.”
The director of sales and operations at The Big Issue, Chris Falchi-Stead, said that the experience was “a great opportunity to show the Archbishop, on a small scale, what everyday life selling the magazine on the streets is like.
“Lee is a fantastic ambassador for The Big Issue, showing the Archbishop the ropes, providing sales tips as well as sharing his experiences.”
A video of the Archbishop discussing religion, hope, and homelessness with Mr Welham is on The Big Issue’s YouTube channel, and a transcript of the conversation is in the magazine and on the website.
Read more on this story in this week’s Press column