We've all walked along a high street and seen their magazine vendors. Many of us will have stopped and purchased a copy. On the 23rd March, just hours before the government announced lockdown, Big Issue North made the tough decision to temporarily stop the sale of their magazine on the streets for the first time since their foundation in 1992. Pulling the street sales of the magazine wasn't an easy decision, removing the source of income for all of their 350 self-employed vendors across the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber. They had to, however, put the safety and health of their vendors and customers first.
As charities look to the future and to re-opening, Big Issue North approached us for help getting Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for their vendors. If you're looking for the shop, here is a quick link to purchasing PPE for Big Issue North or one of the many other fantastic charities we partner with.
Alternatively, keep reading to find out more about Big Issue North have adapted and how you can help them and their vendors moving forwards, both in the short term and the longer term.
For those that don't already know: Who are Big Issue North?
Big Issue North is more than just a magazine and more than just an income for the vendors that sell it.
The magazine vendors you see are self-employed. These vendors visit the Big Issue North offices in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield from Monday to Saturday to purchase magazines. They then sell on the magazine to members of the public for double what they paid, keeping the profits. Last year a total of 644 people sold the Big Issue North magazine! In addition to Big Issue North, the charitable Big Issue North Trust funds everything that vendors need to change their lives, from their tabard and badge, to personal ID and basic living items for their new accommodation.
Selling Big Issue North isn’t just a way of earning an income, it also gives vendors a meaningful use of their time that allows them to interact with others – sometimes the only regular opportunity they have to do so – and to improve their confidence and motivation. Combined with the vendor support provided by the Big Issue North staff, there is generally a hugely positive impact on vendors’ mental health.
Proactivity is Key!
Life within Big Issue North has changed drastically since lockdown. Within the offices, staff work hard to both create content for and print the magazine, maintain the day-to-day running and provide vital support to the vendors. Vendors buying the magazine generates an income of around £15,000 per week. With vendors unable to work, Big Issue North have had to make use of the government COVID-19 furlough scheme, furloughing a proportion of their staff. Those still working have had to adapt quickly, like many of us, to continue to support vendors remotely and find new, innovative ways of selling the magazine and generating income.
The first step was to set up a hardship fund, easydonate.org/HARDSHIP, in order to cover the crucial expenses of their vendors who were now in the position of being unable to work and support themselves. This fund has, and continues to, cover everything from rent and bills, to food shops and transport to medical appointments.
Did you know that you can now find the magazine in stores across the North and online?
In addition to the hardship fund, staff have liaised with major retailers to organise for the sale of the magazine within a multitude of stores. Keep an eye out in your local Sainsbury's, McColl's, Co-Op, Asda, One Stop, Morrisons, Waitrose and Booths! Alternatively, visit issuu.com/bigissuenorth for the new, digital version. This is the first time ever that the magazine has been sold anywhere except on the streets and the Big Issue North online shop, shop.bigissuenorth.com. The funds generated through both of these avenues has been split 50/50, with 50 percent going directly to the hardship fund, while the rest went towards covering printing and editorial costs, allowing the magazine to continue to be there for vendors when they’re able to return.
The way that the Big Issue North staff have reacted in an unprecedented time is a fantastic example of a dedicated team, who evidently care greatly about both their company and the overall cause.
What's the near future for Big Issue North and how will they cope post-lockdown? We spoke with Brontë Schiltz at Big Issue North to find out:
"After much consideration, we have decided that we will begin to allow vendors to return to work soon, as non-essential businesses also begin to reopen. We have purchased a number of SumUp contactless payment devices so that vendors do not have to endanger themselves or their customers by taking cash payments, and our frontline staff have been working hard to help vendors to open bank accounts in order to use them, which has also involved purchasing ID for vendors who didn’t previously have any.
Returning to work at this stage will only be open to vendors who are not shielding and do not live with anyone who is, and will only be permitted on pitches where social distancing will be possible, but the vendors who are able to return to work are really excited to do so.
PPE will therefore allow vendors to return to work safely, enabling them to return not only to earning a living, but also to seeing their customers and filling their time in a way that makes an enormous difference to their wellbeing."
You can make a direct impact on the safety, livelihood and wellbeing of the Big Issue North vendors by purchasing PPE such as face masks, visors, hand sanitiser and disposable gloves through our online store here: www.hope-revolution.org/ppe-shop. Drop us a note at checkout to indicate your allocation preference for Big Issue North, or of course, one of our other fantastic partner organisations. Our UK based supplier, Stevenage Packaging Limited, with post your order with next day delivery directly to the Big Issue North offices, where staff can distribute it to their vendors as required. A simple, safe and efficient donation process!
An Uplifting Note from Big Issue North:
We’ve been really heartened by the support we’ve received from members of the public. More than 700 people have donated a total of over £70,000 to our hardship fund, and we’ve been inundated with messages of support for our vendors. It’s been lovely to see people pull together in hard times, and to know how much our vendors mean to the people in their local communities.
This blog post was written with the assistance of Brontë Schiltz and Big Issue North.
Images courtesy of Big Issue North Twitter - @bigissuenorth