ACT News

After 450 editions, The Big Issue still makes a difference

If you've ever set foot in the Canberra Centre chances are you've been greeted by Grant Wilson in his fluoro vest. He sells The Big Issue magazine there seven days a week, sometimes for up to 10 hours a day.

On a good day Mr Wilson sells as many as 50 issues, but there's been days when he's sold fewer than 10 or none at all.

Big Issue seller Grant Wilson with Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, selling copies of the magazine from outside the ...
Big Issue seller Grant Wilson with Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, selling copies of the magazine from outside the Canberra Centre. Photo: Rohan Thomson

He pays $3 to buy each magazine and sells them for $6, keeping the profit.

For Mr Wilson and about 30 other disadvantaged Canberra sellers, the magazine provides welcome income and important purpose.

"Sometimes it's tough, especially if you need the money for that day. But if you've got money saved up from the day before or the day before that then hopefully you can save up," Mr Wilson said.

Mr Wilson who lives in community housing, has been selling the magazine for seven years now and is Canberra's top vendor.

The 28-year-old said he had been looking for a job since he was 16, but a heart condition, mental health problems and a gambling addiction prevented him finding work.

On Wednesday morning, ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher joined Mr Wilson to sell the magazine as part of its International Street Vendor Week.

"It's genuinely hard for some to get employment, whether it's because of a particular disability or educational status. What this does is offer some people independence to earn their own living and do something they enjoy," Ms Gallagher said.

The Big Issue is a fortnightly independent magazine sold worldwide. It offers people like Mr Wilson, who suffer from serious disadvantage such as homelessness, poverty and disability, the opportunity to become independent.

Big Issue enterprise and community engagement manager Sally Hines described vendors like Mr Wilson as micro-entrepreneurs. "The Big Issue is a social enterprise, it's not based on handouts … We see ourselves as a first entry point to work," Ms Hines said.

Mr Wilson said selling the magazines has bought purpose back to his life.

"Seven years ago I probably wanted to commit suicide because of my depression … but in the last couple of years it's been almost 100 per cent gone.''

During her short stint as a vendor, Ms Gallagher said she learnt some of the challenges of magazine street vending.

"It's amazing seeing people wander by trying to avoid you … even if you're not going to buy one a friendly hello or smile wouldn't hurt," she said.

The Big Issue has been operating in Canberra for about 10 years with the support of Woden Community Service. Each fortnightly edition sells 1500 copies in Canberra and 27,000 Australia wide.

Mr Wilson said he dreamt of one day using his sales experience with The Big Issue as a stepping stone to mainstream employment.

The Big Issue celebrates its 450th edition internationally this fortnight.

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