The Bigger Issue: An interview about homelessness in the second lockdown

Meet Darren Goldrick, a Cambridge Big Issue seller

Since the second lockdown began on November 5th, we have all been strongly reminded of the uncertainties and worries we felt the first time around. This in itself is enough to make any ordinary person fearful of the indeterminate future ahead of us, especially in the run up to Christmas. But amidst all our disconcerting fears and concerns about unclear times ahead, have we really stopped to think about one of the larger issues in our society – how will the second lockdown affect those most vulnerable in our community: people experiencing homelessness.

Thinking about those less fortunate

It is so easy for many today to preoccupy themselves with more obvious worries about “me, myself and I”. For many of us more privileged people facing a global pandemic today, our main apprehensions can at times become unintentionally side-tracked and come to revolve directly around issues facing us. These manifest themselves in the form of more obvious concerns such as: “How will lockdown affect my time as a student in university?” Or… “My favourite clothes shops are closed and I hate online shopping!”

Of course, this is by no means to say that all of our struggles and trepidations are entirely self-absorbed and thoughtless. We, as human beings, are naturally programmed to feel a mixed array of emotions, especially regarding topics we know little about. These times are fairly new to us, the impending fears of how this lockdown will affect people’s mental health and financial situations are immeasurable. We are all justified in our feelings of anxiety and anger at how this virus has disrupted our day to day practices and lifestyles that we took for granted for so long.

This lockdown however, I am finding myself constantly dwelling on the disadvantages and complications on what those living on the streets around the world will face this time round. Not to mention the fact that the weather is getting colder and the nights are darkening quicker. I can only be grateful for the basic provisions that I will have, and have had during the pandemic – shelter, food, and a nice warm bed.

Meet Darren

It has been nearly two weeks since I had the pleasure of interviewing Darren Goldrick, one of Cambridge’s many Big Issue sellers that will become yet another person to suffer because of a merciless lockdown. I first encountered Darren around mid-October whilst taking a stroll through the city centre. It was hard not to be drawn in by his enthusiastic voice echoing around Sidney Street, “BIGGGGGG ISSue, GET youRRRRR BIGGGGGG ISSue here, folks!” Funnily enough, I found his voice quite therapeutic, and once I learned the background story about what selling the Big Issue does for him and his colleagues, I vowed to always buy a copy off him whenever I saw him in front of Sainsbury’s.

Not only do I hold Darren in such high esteem as he is a true gentleman, but he was also such a pleasure to interview and was very engaging in all he communicated to me. Darren began describing to me what he had experienced in the previous lockdown: “It was a tough time for us all, I was left jobless with nothing to rely on. It was so unexpected and unfortunately due to the rapid progression of it all, I wasn’t able to apply for any other jobs to keep me going.”

What amazed me though, was Darren’s ability to persevere through such difficult times and his astounding positivity towards the whole situation. He used his time efficiently back at the end of March, and decided that, although lockdown would negatively impact his life, he would nonetheless persevere by using his time aside from work to completely rebuild his camp out in the woods, making it a more homely and secure place.

Darren was a lot more apprehensive the week prior to the second lockdown as reality began to set in. From past experience, (he has worked as a Big Issue seller since 1999), he is aware that the month approaching Christmas is normally the busiest time for him in terms of his job. However, despite the instability of his future, Darren remains resilient and is more prepared this time round, explaining to me that he is on constant lookout for part-time jobs to sustain him.

Myself, reading one of the Big Issue copies

Prior to lockdown, we were shocked to hear the government’s intention to discard the free school meal programme, which has sustained so many children of economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The statistics of those who would be affected were shocking; revealing that 1.4 million children across the country were at risk of losing their free meals over the school holidays. Fortunately, the introduction of the “Winter Grant Scheme” (which provides funding to ensure vulnerable households won’t face hunger over the lockdown) was announced by the Government on Sunday. With this all looming, I was keen to find out how Darren would be able to source food during the coming lockdown, and if it would be easily accessible to him and other people experiencing homelessness in the area. Thankfully, Darren has been able to obtain access to meals through local foodbanks and the charity “Winter Comfort”.

Darren had also kindly asked me pass on a message to the public, and to those reading this article. He encourages us: “We all have to get through this and pull forward together. It is important that we stick to the guidelines because then the sooner we’ll be back to normality again – or as close as can be.”

Although it is uncertain when I will next be graced with Darren’s presence on Sidney St, I strongly encourage everyone to contribute towards such a good cause next time Darren and his colleagues are able to sell the Big Issue. It costs only three pounds, and once Darren or any of the other sellers have sold their magazines for the day, they are done. It seems to me that although Darren hugely enjoys his job, he is also always relieved to see the end of another successful day.

The Big Issue is a very trusted brand and offers employment opportunities to those facing poverty, I would highly recommend buying a copy when the chance next presents itself. The magazines include everything from ways to tackle poverty, government advice concerning the second lockdown, a culture section and a writer’s feature section.

Two purchases of the Big Issue which I thoroughly enjoyed

I would like to finish off with a reminder from Darren, and one I feel we can all bear in mind in order to soon regain a sense of normality: “Good luck to everyone and make sure we stick to the guidelines.”

All Image Credits: Una McGeough