The Big Issue was launched in 1991 by Gordon Roddick and John Bird in response to the growing number of rough sleepers on the streets of London. The two set out to address the problem of homelessness by offering homeless people the opportunity to earn a legitimate income; to ‘help them to help themselves’.
Twenty years on the organisation has helped thousands of vulnerable people to take control of their lives, and currently works with around 2000 homeless and vulnerably housed people across the UK.
In order to become a Big Issue vendor an individual must prove that they are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and must undergo an induction process and sign up to the code of conduct. Once they have done so they are allocated a fixed pitch and issued with a number of free copies of the magazine. Once they have sold these magazines they can purchase further copies, which they buy for £1.25 and sell for £2.50, thereby making £1.25 per copy.
Last year alone we put more than £5million in the pockets of our vendors, releasing them from a dependence on hand-outs and providing an alternative to begging.
And we don’t stop there. We recognise that earning an income is first step on the journey away from homelessness. The Big Issue Foundation, a registered charity, exists to link vendors with the vital support and services. The organisation offers advice and referrals in four keys areas; housing, health, financial independence and aspirations, and relies almost entirely on voluntary donations.
Over the past two decades the magazine has become synonymous with challenging, independent journalism, and renowned for securing exclusive interviews with the most elusive of superstars. It currently circulates over 105,000 copies every week.
Created as a business solution to a social problem The Big Issue has gone on to become one of the most instantly recognisable brands in the UK and a powerful blueprint for social change which has inspired hundreds of imitations; from Johannesburg to Tokyo, Sydney to Addis Ababa, Perth to Sao Paolo, Seoul to Nairobi, The Big Issue is leading a global self-help revolution.