The formula is simple but challenging. Becoming a vendor gives people who are homeless or sleeping rough, in temporary accommodation, in danger of losing a home or unemployed and facing financial crisis the opportunity to sell a weekly entertainment and current affairs magazine to earn money. We are unique because our service users are working.
What is Aspirations Week?
Aspirations Week is The Big Issue’s initiative to encourage vendors to consider their long-term goals, and to provide them with the tools and information to pursue them. Because of the immediate difficulties facing people who are homeless, vulnerably housed or at risk of homelessness, it can be difficult for our vendors to remain focused on where they want to be in several years time and improving their long-term employment prospects. For this reason, Aspirations Week focuses on developing individual skills and providing advice, with particular attention to employment and communication.
In order to ensure Aspirations Week responded well to the needs of our vendors, we focused on five main themes: core employability skills; self-employment; education; hobbies and wellbeing; and social and family networks. These themes combined a general aim with the potential to address the specific requirements of vendors in The Big Issue’s offices, with an emphasis on personal capabilities and employability.
Employability and self-employment were both tackled using workshops and drop-ins from a range of specialists, with notable assistance from Crisis Skylight, who conducted drop-ins in Birmingham and Oxford, Re-solve Training in Plymouth, Freshfields in London or Skills Development Scotland in Glasgow. Many offices conducted their own workshops, such as Bath, whose ‘Be Your Own Boss’ self-employment workshop was particularly popular, encouraging vendors to exchange ideas and support one another in their initiatives. As well as giving vendors a space to brainstorm ideas, the employment workshops offered practical assistance, with a number of specialists dropping in to provide advice on Welfare Reform and Tax Credits, to facilitate the transition from magazine selling to other types work for those who wish to do so. In Bournemouth, the Welfare Reform advice drop-in was so popular that many vendors brought their friends, and the office was able to induct and badge up four new vendors. Skills Centre South-West, who came in to offer information about the free BTEC training available, provided employment assistance in Bristol, while in Southampton sales training was provided, in addition to a visit from the National Careers Service.
More broadly, vendors were encouraged to consider their long-term goals, as was demonstrated by the two week sales targets suggested in Bath, as well as the questionnaires provided in all regional offices, which gave greater insight into the ambitions and interests of Big Issue vendors. There was also a substantial increase in Vendor Support Fund applications.
We also held photography competitions in Plymouth and Exeter where vendors were challenged to capture things they enjoy doing or looking at, or things that they feel others may overlook; hoping to show in the exhibition the different and varied people that are Big Issue Vendors.