Doe is a familiar face in Cambridge and official vendor of The Big IssueLouis Ashworth

Standing outside Sainsbury’s, where he has become a familiar face selling The Big Issue, Jonjo tells me that his job is difficult: “People just don’t want to listen to you.”

Jonjo Doe arrived, homeless, in Cambridge more than three years ago and has since built a reputation among locals and students alike based on his entrepreneurial talent and sociable demeanour. Now “ready to move onto other things”, Jonjo plans to construct a coffee trike selling coffee to busy customers in Cambridge.

Aiming to raise funds to kick start his business, Jonjo started a GoFundMe a few weeks ago, which, at the time of writing, has raised £1,754. Money will go towards constructing and preparing the trike and coffee equipment, and paying for a pitch.

Jonjo is eager to emphasise that his coffee trike fundraiser, unlike many other campaigns on GoFundMe’s platform, is “not a hard-luck story”, but rather a means of “setting up [his] own business and becoming independent again”.

The coffee trike concept has been on Jonjo’s mind for a while now, and he says it’s “exciting to see it finally getting in motion”, though he wishes everything would happen “a bit quicker”. He is concerned, however, that his fundraising campaign is stagnating slightly, and is aiming to increase efforts to “build momentum”, incorporating advertisements for the campaign into his Big Issue sales routine. He shows me a copy of the magazine with the fundraiser’s web address written on the back.

Describing the beginning of his career as a vendor of The Big Issue, Jonjo says, “there were no expectations”, emphasising that his entry into this field of work was born of “real need” and survival instinct. “I was homeless and I knew it could be a good source of income if you worked hard, so I started.”

The Big Issue, founded in 1991, now ranks among the world’s most successful homeless outreach initiatives, with a weekly circulation of 82,294 as of 2017. Its business model is simple: vendors – who must be homeless, marginalised or vulnerably housed – buy copies of the magazine for £1.25 and then sell them on to the public for £2.50, keeping the profits.


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Jonjo credits the Big Issue for offering “unexpected possibilities”, citing his encounters with the Mayor of Cambridge and founder of The Big Issue Lord John Bird, with whom he has visited Westminster and been interviewed by Sky News.

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, is a regular customer, Jonjo tells me.

However, selling The Big Issue certainly has its drawbacks, and fundamentally, he emphasises, “it’s not a very good job”. On “bad days like today” sales can be frustratingly slow. Even worse, Jonjo tells me, “People are rude to you. I’ve been attacked several times.”

Being a vendor can often often be “wearing”, and, though he notes that the initiative has helped him, Jonjo is emphatically clear: “It’s not what I want to be doing in the future”.

The planned coffee trike may be the first step in fulfilling Jonjo’s entrepreneurial dreams, but it is unlikely that it will be his last. “What else? There’s always something else!”, he jokes, before going on to detail his interest in the Community Land Trust, a nonprofit aiming to develop affordable housing for the most vulnerable, and The Big Issue’s new digital edition.