Hand up, not hand out - Big Issue North - 13/09/2018
Hardly a day goes by without me seeing a Big Issue North vendor working, how about you?
Vendors have become part of the visual fabric of the city. There’s one based at my local Tesco just down the road, and whenever I walk through the city centre, I see several dotted around in their pitches, dressed in official Big Issue tabards, smiling and greeting people as they walk by. There are around 30-40 active vendors in the city, with others who are registered but not currently selling magazines.
Perhaps the most important point to appreciate is that vendors are working – this is their job. They are not begging, but are taking positive steps towards improving their lives, by committing to working for a living. Vendors buy magazines in advance at a cost of £1.25 each, and can then sell them for £2.50 each, making £1.25 per sale. So, they have to manage their sales and money each day in order to be able to buy more magazines for the next day’s work – few sales or less time spent working one day can mean less chance to make money the next day. And vendors work in all weathers, rain, wind, snow or sun, often working 10 hour days, on their feet all day long, not wanting to leave their pitch for fear of missing out on sales. This is hard work!
I met with Ben, Senior Coordinator at the Big Issue North, who works from the Cathedral Archer Project in the city centre, to find out more about their work, and how selling the magazine helps people to move forwards with their lives.
Ben explained that the team carry out regular vendor audits to find out what positives the vendors gain from selling the Big Issue North. Obviously for many vendors, the main positive is financial, in that they are able to earn money through working. Once vendors start to earn their own money, this can motivate them to develop budgeting and time management skills, which then often leads to gaining more stability in other areas of their lives, for example, attending appointments and resolving housing issues. For many vendors, the structure that selling the Big Issue North brings to their lives, is the first stable thing they’ve had going on for quite a while, and it spreads positive ripples throughout the rest of their life.
Some vendors may not be accessing other support services in the city, so could be at risk of falling through the cracks as they are not being supported elsewhere. Through selling Big Issue North, vendors are on somebody’s radar in the city, and through their outreach work, the Big Issue North team are able to check on the welfare of vendors and encourage them to access other services as appropriate. Thanks to donations to Big Issue North Trust, the organisation’s charity arm, vendors can also get support to get ID and home furnishing packages, attend projects such as IT skills and breakfast clubs, and much more. All of this for your £2.50!
Vendors also report include that selling the magazine is good for self respect and feelings of self worth, as the work provides the chance to interact with people continually throughout the day. Many vendors have regular customers who buy the magazine from them every week, with whom they’ve built friendly relationships. Unfortunately however, some passers by ignore the friendly hello from a vendor and walk on by. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t stop to chat to every vendor as I’m far too busy, nor do I buy a copy of the Big Issue North each time. But, I absolutely smile back and say hello. That takes seconds and costs nothing.
You can read interviews with vendors of the magazine on the Big Issue North’s website, including with Sheffield vendor Carl, who talks about the positive impact that selling the magazine has had on his life, “My flat is all kitted out. It’s all decorated and the bills get paid now that I have a job selling the magazine. It’s better than being stuck in a hostel where things can get a bit hectic, or being stuck in a tent. I couldn’t really take it anymore and it’s much better now.”
Another city vendor, Andrew says,
“Everybody has life problems but there’s nothing better than someone trying to work for their money. I know you can earn a lot more money begging. I’ve seen the difference. What the Big Issue North guys get compared to what I had when I begged – it’s like pennies versus pounds. But I don’t want to beg anymore.”
By buying a copy of the Big Issue North from a vendor, rather than giving money to somebody who is begging on the street, you are supporting vulnerable people to make a positive change in their lives, and providing a stepping stone towards their next step, be that their own tenancy, beginning to access support, or to other employment.
Giving money to people begging on the street doesn’t allow people to move forwards, as people who beg are reliant on the actions of others to sustain them, rather than actions that they are taking themselves. Selling the Big Issue North can lead to big, positive changes in a vendor’s life.
The people of Sheffield are hugely caring and compassionate about the welfare of others in the city and have a genuine desire to help support the most vulnerable. Helping in a positive way, such as by buying the Big Issue North, or supporting charities and agencies which exist through donations or volunteering your time, enables your actions to have a much greater impact on individuals and the city as a whole.
Alison Riggott, SheffGives
Photo credit, Anna Manetta-Stark, Big Issue North.