April 30, 2020

The Big Issue with lockdown

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.

Paul McNamee
UK Editor, The Big Issue

Join the conversation! 22 Comments

  1. I have read all of the above comments and care about what everyone wrote, and your were wise to consider them all which I am sure you are doing, and like very much the comments praising up the Co-operative, and I’ll add my comments to this – well done Co-operative Organisation, for helping the Homeless and other Precious People who are disadvantaged and vulnerable by selling The Big Issue instore, and encouraging us to take out a subscription, and by the way our local Co-ops in Twydall Green, Kent, have Happy Memories of being there will my Older Sons and youngest Son Alex {who is very autistic and very wonderful and is living in a village for People with Special Needs, which is under Lockdown, and it is a wonderful place, but am missing Alex very much, anyway, my three Sons and myself used to go to the Twydall store alot, and met interesting and inspiring People – and that was just most of the Staff! and over the last years I have gone more to the Co-operative Store in Beechings Way, aside from being near beautiful Kawasaki Way near Nature Places, have Happy Memories of being there with Alex when he lived with us – all of the Staff there are so friendly and interesting and helpful, so Honour to them all!

  2. So grateful for this as I was wondering how our Big Issue sellers were coping and fearing that they would be exploited by traffickers or worse. I shall pick up my copy from Co-op today!

  3. Well done management for thinking of arranging sales of The Big Issue in shops.
    Although I cannot get to any shops at present, I hope that this arrangement will continue long after lockdown is over. it is much easier for me to buy one in my local co-op, than to travel up to the high street to find a B.I seller.

  4. Well done, Co op, I was worried about not buying the Big Issue since the lockdown. I am so glad it can be bought in the stores and the sellers can be kept safe.

  5. That’s my wonderful Co op!

  6. Well done Co-op, a genuinely fine action for which I admire you!

  7. What a good news story, and great to hear Co-op supporting the Big Issue – their community spirit is one of the reasons I continue to shop at the Co-op

  8. That’s great to hear, Sylvia. Take care and stay safe! ^Mel

  9. Thanks for the support, Mary 💙 😀 ^Mel

  10. Big issue sellers typically make £1.25 per magazine sold.
    How will the money be distributed to the sellers? Will it be the amount of magazines sold x £1.25 divided by the number of Big Issue sellers? Or will they receive less as a result of this?

    Be wary of companies trying to profit off of your kindness in this time with their PR ploys…

  11. I live in a small seaside town.
    Last night I wrote a poem in appreciation of the staff in my local co-op.
    Why folk are travelling miles to stand in a bigger queue to shop at this time is unbelievable.
    I am taking my poem to the store today to show my apprecision.
    Well done Co-op.
    I still remember my Mother’s co-op number from the 1950’s.

    • Please could you send me a copy of the poem for our local village magazine in Catterick Village North Yorks

  12. Well done to the Co-op for stocking the Big Issue. The loss of revenue from the sale of the magazine for sellers during lockdown was something which I raised with my local council. Whilst I was assured my local council was temporarily housing the homeless, I raised the point that the sales from the Big Issue are not only relied upon by the homeless, but also some vulnerably housed people and some very financially disadvantaged people. Therefore sales of the Big Issue need to continue, so well done for your compassionate initiative.

    • Hi, I think this is wonderful! Not only for the company of the big issue but sellers as this could help people after lockdown stay off the streets. Only thing is you may need posters up outside shops for people to read when they are in the Q to go inside! As a co-op card member I now only know about this

  13. Massive well done 👏 and Thank You for this wonderful support

  14. I would like to say that i am very dissappointed with a situation that has just accured at my local co op hilton cresent Edwalton WestBridgeford Nottingham. Having Qued up outside and social distancing the required distance before being allowed in.People are not doing the same in the store.I have had to tell fellow shoppers to keep their distance from me.One man a few minutes ago comes charging quite close to me,my instant reaction was to tell him not to get close to me and to get away from me and to keep his distance.He told me to calm down and made the situation worse.The store managers and assistance staff should make sure the same applies indoors as it does outdoors.This kind of behaviour is the very thing that puts lives at risk,My life is worth fighting for.I am not going to let people take it away from me.

  15. This is a good thing that you are doing, Co op- when I am able to leave quarantine and get into co op shops, I will support The Big Issue.

  16. Mary, I agree but see my posting about the Coop’s strange policy on defibrillators in local stores

  17. Excellent and laudable approach by the Coop.
    I note that Parkrun is also being supported. This is how the Coop should operate…local and supportive.
    In this context, I found it strange that the Coop will not support the placing of defibrillators in its stores. Our local drama group bought a defibrillator and asked for our local Coop to house it. There was tremendous local management support but at the highest level of the Coop (the CEO) there was refusal to be involved.
    I find this lack of support, strange and still cannot understand the policy.
    Every other supermarket has defibrillators installed. And our local branch of Boots eventually came good, paying the costs of installation as well!
    Martin Hill
    Conwy, North Wales

  18. Well done Coop you are truly a community store.


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