We have the Answer!
Answers From Big Issue (AFBI) comes into the world this week. Starting as a digital magazine, it will grow over the next few months in time for our 21st birthday. By then it will be a vibrant crossroads that will unite two big needs.
The first need is how do you, gradually, carefully, grow a new way of giving homeless people the chance of making money – a new way to augment their street earnings, a way that creates new skills for them and new chances to enhance their working life?
Over the next few months, we will begin by training up a group of our vendors to be ‘correspondents’.
We will be giving them the chance to grow a new way of earning money. By helping us create a vibrant ‘must-read’ monthly digital magazine that will be available to you on the internet.
This is not ‘The Big Issue online’. This is a different beast. This is our chance to combine our need to help vendors with our need to help the world.
The media – TV, radio, newspapers – is notoriously interested in what’s going wrong in the world. It loves disasters and failures. And long may they remind us that all is not as it should be. But this comes at a heavy price.
What it often means is that under our very noses someone, or some group, is getting on with filling the place with solutions, with ‘Answers’.
The world is full of Answers, yet finding them is often like pulling teeth. Recently I visited some projects in Tyne and Wear, in the north of England, a string of projects that I was introduced to by a housing association called Coast & Country.
Living Sober, for instance, is a project that gets people into one of the housing association’s blocks and keeps them sober while they work or volunteer and rebuild their lives.
Their system is based on a US system called Oxford House that helps people rebuild their lives away from drink and drug dependency. Supported by Coast & Country, more than anything it lacks the oxygen of being known about.
Not only is it good in doing its job helping those struggling to gain control of their lives, it also has a profound effect on the local health authority and community at large. It removes highly expensive and troubled people from the A&E and the intensive care unit, and from causing grief in the streets.
Our aim is to create a virtual network of all the excellent but overlooked projects around the UK and beyond. We want to oxygenate these projects via a platform which offers exposure, the opportunity to share knowledge and resources, and the chance to access support from businesses. In short, we want to enable these Answers to stop just surviving and start thriving.
Another great example of a vibrant social answer comes in the form of the Homeless World Cup. They unite homeless people worldwide and get them ‘scoring goals’. In other words, achieving big things in their lives. The Homeless World Cup is an international network of teams that play about with balls to bring social and material support to people who need ‘goals’.
What about shining a light on the hundreds and hundreds of Answers that are under our very noses but unknown to us? What about showcasing businesses that have supported projects that bring change – like The Body Shop International, which helped us mastermind The Big Issue’s creation?
What about taking the need for homeless people to raise their skill game and increase their income, and putting that together by shining a great big light on Answers? What about helping to train up homeless people to become experts at visiting projects and doing interviews, and putting all of that in a digital format – in videos, words and recordings.
What about using the mobile phone as a means of creating new work for our vendors, so when they wish to move from street selling there is an alternative?
Wow! It won’t be easy. It will involve a deep piece of development. This isn’t all just about technology. It’s sculpting our efforts so it really does bring the next string to homeless people’s bows. We have to tread carefully so that we don’t raise too many expectations that don’t get fulfilled. That is why it is necessary to proceed carefully.
The idea itself is of old coinage. Many years ago, an ex-vendor asked me to support him on a bike ride for a child’s charity. I did. It was only later I realised the magic of what that transaction was all about. It was one person who had suffered as a child helping other children from not suffering. It was what I did in my own life: find purpose away from my own abuse by helping those abused.
Answers From Big Issue – AFBI from now on – will be a bright, readable monthly newsletter with a supporting and developing website. It is for you to read and receive. Put yourself down today for this monthly bean feast of joyous engagement. We promise not to make it boring.
And, with the aid of our supported and developed ‘correspondents’, we hope to make light work of ignorance. And help the homeless to help themselves. And help those who bring the Answers to the world make a bigger splash.
If you would like to read, or get involved, please visit www.answersfrombigissue.com
It is the beginning of a new way of helping the homeless to help themselves. Dare I say that when we claimed to have invented the ‘Big Society’ 21 years ago we were right. This is us, Mark II. Get those Answers flowing…