Cathedral Dean swaps church robes for homeless clothes in aid of Big Issue ‘experiment’

Dean of the St Edmundsbury Cathedral, The Reverend Canon Dr Frances Ward, selling the Big Issue in Abbeygate Street
Dean of the St Edmundsbury Cathedral, The Reverend Canon Dr Frances Ward, selling the Big Issue in Abbeygate Street
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The Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral has taken part in a ‘social experiment’ aimed at raising awareness of the plight of The Big Issue sellers.

Replacing her church robes and ‘dog collar’ with mismatched clothing and a distinctive woolly hat, the Reverend Canon Dr Frances Ward took to the streets of Bury St Edmunds today to sell magazines for the homeless charity.

She said: “It’s cold and a bit soul-destroying but, actually, I’ve been quite surprised by how little aggression I’ve had. People have been really polite, on the whole.”

In two and a half hours, the clergywoman earned £13.50 for the charity.

“It’s a miserable way to earn money. I know people do it because they need to but it is a grim way to earn money,” she said, adding that she would not want to repeat the experience.

The ‘experiment’ was organised by BBC Radio Suffolk presenter Rob Dunger, who did it himself, in Bury, around six years ago.

He said: “I did it just to experience it. It’s not to sensationalise it - it’s to make real people experience what it is.

“When Frances said she’d do it, I didn’t tell her what to expect because people can give you abuse.”

Dr Ward said: “I thought it was a good idea, especially in January because they say it’s the most depressing month of the year. It’s proved the point actually because people have looked quite miserable.”

She added: “It’s interesting who has bought them - mostly women (I don’t know if that’s something to do with me being a woman) and no young people.”

An encounter with an elderly women, one of only a handful of people to offer donations, proved a highlight for the Dean.

“She just looked so frail and yet was so generous. She said ‘even when you can’t afford it, you’ve got to give’ and ‘that’s worth so much more than money,’” said Dr Ward.

The Big Issue Foundation gives the homeless community the opportunity and support to work themselves out of poverty. Its vendors earn a legitimate income, buying each magazine for £1.25 and selling it for £2.50.

“I always used to give but I think I’ll be donating much more regularly now,” said Dr Ward.

The ‘experiment’ will be featured throughout Radio Suffolk’s Sunday morning show, between 6-9am.

For more on the charity, go to