Illustration by Nicola Ferrarese
Photo: Exposure Photo Agency
Advertorial from O2
There’s a good chance that the last time you bought a Big Issue magazine no money changed hands. Every week more and more Big Issue vendors are being kitted out with card readers to join the cashless revolution, boosting their business as they do so.
Covid has made life really tough for vendors. Lockdown took their livelihoods, and with the situation changing rapidly many town centres are seeing less footfall than normal this Christmas.
So it’s no surprise that cashless selling is such a big deal. Going digital can boost a vendor’s earnings by a third or more.
Phone network O2 knows the power of digital connection. Together with social change charity Good Things Foundation, O2 is reaching out specifically to Big Issue vendors, with data plans to help over 200 sellers move to card readers.
O2 is giving them 7GB of data through the National Databank, as well as a free sim, unlimited calls and texts to help them grow their business and stay connected with loved ones.
The Big Issue is like a stepping stone to stability. This data from O2 is going to be part of that
Stephen, Big Issue vendor
It’s part of O2’s wider ambition to tackle digital exclusion and get more than 255,000 people connected by the end of 2023. The National Databank will be a big part of this – for every plan the network sells this Christmas, it will donate 10GB of data so that it’s there, absolutely free, for anyone who needs it.
Stephen Lancaster is a Big Issue vendor in Holborn, London, who knows how vital it is to stay connected. For him, increasing his magazine sales by going digital is a big part of that.
“It’s the way of the world these days,” says Stephen, 52. “If you’re going to go cashless you need internet access, and also the data itself. Quite a lot of the time I don’t have credit on my phone and other times it goes down very quickly. So this will be a weight off my mind.
“If I don’t sell many magazines I’ve still got to survive, I’ve still got to live.”
But it’s not just Stephen’s business that will be boosted by the free data.
“This will help me keep appointments and stay in touch with family,” he says. “A lot of people take digital for granted because they’d get this stuff in their contract, but if you don’t have a regular income you might not be able to get a 12- or a 24-month contract.
“With The Big Issue you’re starting afresh and it’s like a stepping stone to some sort of stability in life. These sim cards and data from O2 are going to be part of that.”
Stephen is multi-skilled, with a background in trades and plenty of ideas in mind for his future. That all starts with going cashless and selling more magazines.
“It’s step by step,” he says. “Not having internet access for the last number of years, you fall behind but you never stop learning in this life.”
Omida Dumitru sells The Big Issue in Uckfield, East Sussex, and as a mum of five it’s vital that she maximises her income.
Since the virus came, people don’t carry cash
Big Issue vendor Omida
She started moving to cashless sales a few weeks ago and feels confident it’s going to be a game changer – especially with sales having been hit by Covid-19.
“At the moment I’m struggling a lot,” she says. “I used to sell 20 or 25 magazines every day and now I sell 15 or sometimes 10. I can lose 30 or 40 quid a day.
“Since the virus came, people don’t carry cash. Last week I bought nine magazines I couldn’t sell. But with cashless it would be much easier to find those customers. About 20 people a day tell me they don’t have cash and ask me why I don’t have a card reader.”
Turning custom away is tough when sales have already been hit. But Omida banks online and has good digital skills, so cashless selling could mean no more unsold magazines.
With a big family and her own micro-business, she already has plenty on her plate. She feels the help from O2 will take one of life’s hassles out of the picture.
“You just won’t have to worry about running out of data,” she says. Anthony Okuyedi agrees. He sells The Big Issue in South Kensington and made the move to cashless a couple of years ago.
The data I have now is limited to 2GB, so if it runs out I have to top it up
Big Issue vendor Anthony
He’s using a wheelchair at the moment because of arthritis, and these challenges with mobility and commuting mean that every magazine sale counts while he’s on his pitch. With half of them now completed through his card reader, Anthony is living proof of how cashless payments can transform a vendor’s fortunes. But data worries play on his mind too.
“Since the lockdown, sales have been quiet anyway,” says Anthony, 60. “Without the card reader it would probably be worse. The data I have now is limited to 2GB, so if it runs out I have to top it up.”
Anthony’s also an artist, offering beautiful works that pay tribute to his African heritage for sale on eBay and Etsy.
With a bit more cash in his pocket, he’d like to set up his own website.
“Being online is mainly for the card reader, but sometimes I want to browse or do some research for my artwork,” he says. “Before, I never knew how to do it but now I’ve got the gist of it. I kind of grasp things quickly because I went to college to do art – I’m an educated fool!”
When other Big Issue vendors come on board, thanks to the help from O2 and Good Things Foundation, they’ll quickly make the transformation to a digital life too. Anthony is a shining example of how it can pay dividends.
“As a Big Issue vendor, it’s really, really helpful because a lot of people just don’t carry cash any more,” he says. “So when they see the card reader they really like it.”
Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Christmas. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Christmas.