650 words, approx 3-4 mins to read.
Guest blog post, by UK Editor of The Big Issue, Paul McNamee.
Just over five weeks ago, we removed our Big Issue vendors from the streets.
It was becoming clear, at incredible speed, that the streets were unsafe. They are tough enough places at the best of times. When they’re stalked by an invisible enemy that picks on the weakest, and your people have underlying problems putting them right in the crosshairs, you’ve got to act. And so, for the first time since John Bird wrestled The Big Issue magazine into being 29 years ago, an edition didn’t appear on the street. That was a hell of an emotional thing to happen.
But that was just the start. No time to rest and ponder. It precipitated a complete change in how we work. Our means of operation have been hardwired since day one. A hand up, not a handout. We create a magazine, we sell it to the marginalised people of Britain, the poorest, those who are most often neglected or ignored, they get it from us for half the cover price, then they sell for cover price. That’s their income, their legitimate income. It’s a way to earn, a way to re-socialise, a way to work and get self-confidence and pride; a centring and a future. So when that is gone, what do you?
This is what you do. You remember why you’re doing it, you work out how to get that magazine to the public and then how you get that money and support to the vendors, to the 1,500 men and women who sell every week. And you have the entire company, suddenly, shockingly, BRILLIANTLY pointing in a new direction. And hot dog, how they have done it!
We began by asking the public to buy a subscription. Buy it for three months, we asked, and we can help vendors now, and we can be here when this ends to help the numbers of people who’ll need us then. Buyt a paper copy to land on your doormat every week or a digital copy to make your device a whole lot better! How they answered. We had help along the way. Friends and supporters, including Armando Iannucci, Chris Packham, Nicola Benedetti, comedian Robin Ince, Deacon Blue’s Ricky Ross, shouted loud and hard. And forgive me for not listing here all who helped. Our debt to them is big, our space here is limited. But we will not forget.
We built an app, from scratch, that exists and will grow and offer more as time goes on.
Then came the shops. We’ve never been in traditional retail spaces before. The Big Issue is of the streets and on the streets. But getting inside was vital.
We thank them all – Sainsbury’s, McColl’s, WH Smith and ASDA. It’s been hugely emotional see them offer such space and assistance.
But we’re particularly happy to be in the Co-op. There is so much about Co-op’s identity and agenda that is focused on helping local communities and being more than a shop that chimes with The Big Issue. We can see that at present with their incredible work side-by-side with food charity Fareshare, with their desire to recruit and find work for many of the people who are out of a job because of the crisis.
And Co-op have been righteous. Not only have they taken The Big Issue into more than 2600 stores, but they are offering preferential space with bespoke in-store messaging. There’s more! They don’t get a brass farthing out of this deal. All sales proceeds go back to The Big Issue. It means we have more to give back to vendors. It’s an incredible gesture and we add them to list of good people we won’t forget.
I encourage you to keep buying The Big Issue. Every sale counts. And it’s also really good! You’ll have a Covid boredom buster, guaranteed.
Thank you Co-op. When this is all done, I’m going to owe you a hell of a drink.
UK Editor, The Big Issue