How The Big Issue is being used as a teaching tool in schools

Poverty is inextricably linked to education. One teacher brought the topic to life by using the magazine in the classroom – while some vendors have returned there to give themselves a hand up

This week The Big Issue has turned its attention to running the rule over the state of schools – but one teacher has flipped the script to use the magazine as a teaching tool.

Sharon Godfrey purchased scores of magazines to introduce her classes at Newton Abbot College in Devon to The Big Issue and homelessness. Kids from years seven to 12 swapped textbooks for the mag and used it to inspire spoken word and dramatic performances that delved into issues associated with life on the streets, including monologues exploring PTSD and mental health issues, as well as addiction.

“We worked quite hard right across my own group and across the campus as a whole,” says Sharon. “We did a body of work on homelessness because that is something that I am very passionate about. The pupils all produced pieces on homelessness so we can break the myth and perception.”

Newton Abbot College Big Issue
Pupils learned all about the magazine and homelessness as well as raising cash for local charities and foodbanks

The project did not limit itself to dismantling poverty within the school walls. The children also raised £70 and donated cans of food to their local foodbank as well as making further offerings to homelessness charity St Petrock’s and a local youth centre. “I think that a lot of the kids’ perceptions of homelessness changed and they were very engaged by the issue,” says Sharon. “I wanted to get the message out that The Big Issue is a great read and not just something you buy to help people.

“I then allowed the children to take home The Big Issues that I bought so that they could see for themselves. The kids were amazing and they were really invested in the issue.

Newton Abbot College
The Big Issue was the inspiration for students' spoken word and dramatic performances

Education can also be a stimulus that is crucial to help vendors lift themselves out of poverty.

Long-time seller Daniel Collins is the latest to enter higher education – he is due to stop selling the magazine next month to study for a degree that will allow him to achieve his dream of becoming a counsellor. Daniel had previously completed an Access to Humanities course at Glasgow Clyde College. Another Scottish vendor, Brian Wilson, has been hard at work getting his qualifications to set up his own boiler maintenance firm and completed a Level 3 diploma in Domestic Core Gas Safety this year.

He follows former vendors like Geoff Edwards, who hit the headlines last year as he headed to illustrious Cambridge University to study English Literature. He had previously slept rough in the city before taking up his place at Hughes Hall, the oldest Cambridge College for mature undergraduates.

Big Issue vendor Brian Wilson
Big Issue vendor Brian Wilson

It’s not easy juggling studies with any job, let alone selling The Big Issue. Janet Bowers had the added complication of supporting four children and an ill husband while she completed her Level 2 Customer Service NVQ at Bournemouth and Poole College in 2015. She told The Big Issue: “I didn’t get any qualifications at school, so the NVQ felt like a real achievement. I’m hoping it helps towards my husband and I starting a market garden business one day, selling fruit and vegetables and plants – that’s our long-term dream.”

And some vendors have completed vocational studies that have resulted in them taking up jobs. Gary Jackson, June Fullerton and Julie Cherry all completed an employability programme at Saints Foundation as part of our first-of-a-kind team-up with Premier League club Southampton FC last year. They have taken up roles at the stewarding department at St Mary’s Stadium alongside fellow vendor Aaron New, whose Level 1 accreditation in customer service earned him a job in conferences and events at the club.

This week we ask, ‘What is school for?’ in this week’s Education Special. Available from vendors, or The Big Issue Shop, now.

Images: Sharon Godfrey/Newton Abbot College