ONE of Swindon town centre’s best-known figures is greeting shoppers for the first time since lockdown was imposed.

Martin Hawes, who has been selling The Big Issue for the past three years, was back at his pitch yesterday after the government started to ease the regulations.

“I’m so looking forward to seeing everyone again,” said the 60-year-old.

“It’s been a nightmare not being able to go out. I’ve really missed selling the magazine and speaking to all my customers during lockdown.”

Martin was one of more than 2,000 Big Issue vendors in the UK who went out to sell the magazine for the first time in 15 weeks.

“I enjoy every minute of it,” said Martin, whose pitch is outside Marks and Spencer on Regent Street.

“I don’t care what the weather is – when we had the Beast from the East I was still out there in the wind and the rain,” he added.

Extensive PPE has been provided for vendors, including face masks, visors, latex gloves and anti-bacterial gel. Contactless card payment equipment has also been handed out as well as additional of new health and safety procedures introduced in all distribution offices.

Martin said: “I’ve really missed being outside. I don’t really do it for the money, I like speaking to everyone.

“I’m looking forward to building the pitch back up again because I don’t think it will be like it was for a while.

“I used to sell about 60 magazines a week, but I don’t expect it will be like that for sometime,” he said.

The Big Issue magazine, which offers homeless and vulnerably housed people across the UK the means to earn an income, was taken off the streets on March 20 to protect vendors and buyers.

Instead the magazine was available in Sainsbury’s stores and online, as well as from newsagents McColl’s, Martin’s and RS McColl. Profits were redistributed to vendors to support them through the pandemic.

“We have been getting a bit back,” said Martin. “But not anything like what you can get when selling it yourself.”

The price of the magazine has also increased to £3 in a bid to help vendors, who buy copies for £1.50.

Martin has previously spoken of the impact on his mental health from the coronavirus and not being able to sell the magazine on the streets.

Martin added: “I’m just glad to be back on the streets again. Hopefully the public are glad to see me back too. Swindon is a great place to sell the magazine.

“I get little children coming up to me at Christmas and all the old ladies look after me.

“I try to serve the public as best I can and try to look out for other people on the streets at the same time.”

Lord John Bird, founder of The Big Issue said: “We have undertaken a huge health and safety review and put in place a range of measures designed to ensure vendors are able to sell safely from July 6. We want to ensure the public feel 100 per cent safe when choosing to buy from our vendors and have followed the government COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

“The Big Issue exists to offer a hand up, and in keeping with that spirit our vendors are passionate about getting back to earning their own income and being in control of their own finances and lives once again.”