JOANNA Ripley of Neville Street, Skipton, who launched a charity "The Allan Ripley Foundation" in memory of her late father who was a well-known postie in town and had a soft spot for the Big Issue magazine, writes about her day helping sell the Big Issue North in Leeds.

NEVER have I felt more grateful than at 5.30am on Saturday, June 3, when my alarm went off.

I arose from a great night’s sleep in a comfy warm bed, showered in hot water, brushed my teeth with an electric toothbrush, put on freshly laundered clothes, drank a cup of tea and watched a bit of the news on BBC iPlayer on my phone.

It sounds like a standard routine. Except everything that I did this morning I thought about, as I did it, as I am visiting the Big Issue North where others did not have the same start to the day as me.

After launching "The Allan Ripley Foundation" in memory of my wonderful dad I decided that instead of just fundraising to reach a £5,000 target for the Big Issue North, I wanted to see how the vendors work and to listen to what they find great about working at the magazine and what challenges they face on the streets of Leeds and surrounding areas.

At 8.15am the office was buzzing with vendors coming in and out to purchase the magazines for their day ahead.

At £1.25 a copy, some people came in for ten, 20 or even 30. One young man bought 60 copies! He was obviously anticipating great sales in York. Customers pay £2.50 a copy.

Each vendor is registered as self-employed and has a code of conduct to adhere to with sanctions given for misconduct. Begging is prohibited and could mean an indefinite suspension from selling the magazine.

One of the big pieces of learning for me is that I feel we must challenge negative perceptions and prejudices about homeless people and the vendors.

Someone complained that one of the vendors had new shoes and how on earth could they afford new shoes? The simple answer is that if the vendor sells 20 magazines today they will have legally earned £50. Each vendor has a unique number which allows the Big Issue North to set sales targets, manage what they have bought, sold or sold back to the office.

The office also supports vendors to register as self-employed and complete the relevant paperwork, access benefits/work credits they are entitled to as well as all other legal aspects of their work and living situation, be that in a hostel, or as a rough sleeper.

I earn a salary and pay my taxes and national insurance contributions. My contribution to the business I work in is appraised and my salary is based on my input and then I get a portion of that when all the legal contributions have been taken out. I can then choose how I spend my money so if I need new shoes I may well buy myself a pair of new shoes. Of course, things are sometimes not as they seem, I may not have bought them at all, I may have been given them as a gift!

Big Issue North challenges inappropriate behaviour from their sellers where necessary but at the same time pledges respect, sensitivity and a commitment to general well-being and progress in return.

My eyes were truly opened to the many ‘stages’ of homelessness and vendors' journeys. There is no black and white. I met vendors who have been selling for many years and have struggled with mental health, substance abuse and criminal records.

However, slowly by selling Big Issue North and the support mechanisms put in place to address any personal and health issues means that lives are slowly rebuilt to various levels, even though some more deep-seated issues will stay.

The vendors tell me it is a positive experience. There are computers to use for job searches, doctors, dentists, clinics, a hot drink, lists of where to get food locally, someone to make you an appointment at the hospital, or apply for your birth certificate, all without judgement.

If you have had a negative experience with a vendor you can call their offices in Leeds and talk it through with one of the team there. They will listen.

There are bruised apples in any cart. You will always find that grouchy waitress, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you will stop eating in the restaurant. So please, take the time to engage with your Big Issue North vendors, they are like you and me, they are building a life.

Also, please, visit my dad’s Just Giving Page and donate whatever you can. I know that the Big Issue North will be happy to provide passports, clothes and back to work help in memory of my father.

He was a very kind man who thought the magazine was great. My father would have been truly proud of the amazing people that I met today.

Big Issue's Anna Manetta-Stark said: "We were not only humbled by the force behind Joanna's restless compassion, but also by her drive to interact and get to know vendors, like Tom. It was heart-warming."