March 23, 2020. PM Boris Johnson delivered the news the country expected but still struggled to believe – the UK was going into lockdown in response to what he called “the biggest threat this country has faced for decades”.
At The Big Issue, we had already acted. A few days earlier, the organisation had removed all Big Issue vendors – more than 1,000 of them – from Britain’s streets with immediate effect.
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There was no other option. It was the only way we could mitigate the health threat they faced. As our founder Lord Bird said at the time: “Our sellers, many of whom are homeless or rough sleeping, are already highly vulnerable and it is only right that we make this difficult decision to protect their welfare.”
But the result was a devastating blow to the incomes of the men and women who make their living through sales of the magazine, not to mention losing the social and psychological benefits their jobs brought them.
We moved to subscriptions, digital and supermarket sales, and fundraisers. We kept the revenues coming in to support Big Issue vendors while they couldn’t sell The Big Issue on their pitches
It was also incredibly tough on The Big Issue as a business. We had to find ways, quickly, of keeping the enterprise afloat without our iconic salesmen and women on their pitches.