30 moments that made The Big Issue. Illustration: Lisa Sheehan
As The Big Issue comes to the end of its third decade and looks towards its fourth, the challenge it has set out to resolve is far from over. Hundreds of thousands are looking at an unstable financial future after the pandemic meaning the magazine seems to have a bigger job than ever. Here’s the third part of our 30 moments series – check out part one and part two.
13) A new look
To make Big Issue vendors stand out on Britain’s bustling high streets, we introduced red tabards. Customers could easily spot vendors and know they’re legitimate. The move quickly turned our sellers into the most recognisable figures on the streets of Britain.
14) Our darkest day
Two Big Issue vendors, Ian Watson-Gladwish and Wayne Busst, were murdered on the streets of Birmingham on January 11 2013. Their deaths shook the whole Big Issue community.
On our 30th anniversary we remember them, and other Big Issue vendors who have died.
Each vendor made a lasting impression on their community. Every time we find out that a vendor has died the news is quickly followed by tributes from customers and fellow vendors and they will not be forgotten.
15) Vendors become art dealers
Renowned street artist STIK is world famous for his stick figure images. Having been homeless himself for a number of years, he wanted to help our vendors and for a week they became art dealers as limited-edition prints of four different colours were inserted into magazines.
These became hugely collectable so it might be worth checking your archive of old editions. Last year a signed set of all four prints sold at auction house Sotheby’s for £4,750. Who knows how much this edition of the magazine might be worth in the future?!
When Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh decided to revisit his classic character Begbie, he penned an exclusive story for The Big Issue looking at what happened when the psychopathic cult favourite was released from jail.
It whet the appetite for finding out what the characters were up to now, and so we take full credit for the Trainspotting movie sequel that arrived just over three years later.
17) First kids Xmas cover
After Begbie featured on one Christmas cover, how better to balance that than the first winner of our now traditional kids cover competition?
Over the years we have had eight incredibly colourful covers created by young Big Issue supporters in one of our biggest-selling magazines each December. We’ll be doing the same this year, so get your felt-tipped pens ready.
18) Bryan Adams cover
”When it came to the big centenary cover for World War 1, I wanted something that spoke of the life-altering injuries some veterans face,” Big Issue editor Paul McNamee says. “There was particular poignancy as Big Issue vendors count vets among them.”
A book called Wounded had brilliant, arresting images including one of Sgt Rick Clement, who lost his legs after stepping on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. The book was by rocker-turned-photographer Bryan Adams.
McNamee continues: “Bryan allowed us to use the photograph as the cover. It became one of the most celebrated in our history, winning PPA Cover of the year, and featured in the book Revolutionary Magazine Covers, alongside Vogue, Rolling Stone, Time and others.”
Coincidentally, (Everything I Do) I Do It For You was number one when The Big Issue launched in 1991, and Adams has stayed a friend to The Big Issue, publishing a book called Homeless last year, featuring portraits of many of our vendors.
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In recognition of his work as a social entrepreneur and campaigner, John Bird was appointed as a crossbench peer. “Someone said to me, how did you get into the House of Lords?” Bird related in his maiden speech.
“I said by lying, cheating and stealing.” Since then he has used his life experience to inject new thinking into debates and campaigns.
20) 200 millionth copy sold
A momentous landmark was achieved when we sold the 200 millionth copy of The Big Issue, putting £100m in the pockets of the most vulnerable in society. It is also calculated that this money has generated an additional return for society of almost £500m.
21) Mark Carney
The then Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney delivered a speech at the annual awards dinner of the Canadian think tank Public Policy Forum.
“I was walking in Edinburgh and there was a guy selling The Big Issue,” he said, explaining that his favourite feature was Letter To My Younger Self. Carney went on to quote an interview with will.i.am, another example of how The Big Issue influences those at the top.
22) Celebrating changemakers
We dedicated the first edition of 2019 to the people creating change in this country. The campaigners and the artists, the charities and the businesses, the tech experts – individuals and collectives – from the Advocacy Academy youth group to Stormzy via Beauty Banks and Grenfell United. Our Top 100 Changemakers has become an annual celebration of fascinating, inspirational and often unsung heroes.
23) Flake News cover
Such was the potency of this cover that it appeared on placards at protests in London when US President Donald Trump’s cavalcade came to town on a state visit.
24) Adapting to a cashless society
Following a successful pilot programme across five UK cities, The Big Issue – in partnership with fintech giants Zettle, a PayPal company – began to equip vendors for a cash-free, contactless world.
Jim Hannah in Norwich was one of the first vendors onboard. “Before all this started,” he said, “I had no ID, no bank account and a rubbish phone, and now I have a decent smartphone, a passport, a bank account and a card reader.”
Demand was so great that we collected many of the best interviews in a book, created and edited by Big Issue books editor Jane Graham, featuring reflections from Paul McCartney, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Olivia Colman, Eddie Izzard, Julie Walters and many more.
An updated paperback edition will be coming in time for your Christmas wish-list this year.
Life as we knew it changed for ever. As the country was sent into lockdown, we had to stop vendors selling on the street. But we also knew they’d need our support more than ever.
So we set up a subscription model and interactive map so readers could continue to buy the magazine from their local seller.
Readers took out subscriptions in their thousands and that support proved, and continues to prove, a lifeline for sellers. By March this year, with your help, we were able to give more than £1m to get vendors through the most turbulent period in The Big Issue’s history.
27) Scoring with Rashford
Among all the unexpected twists and turns of 2020, nobody could have guessed that 23-year-old Manchester United and England forward Marcus Rashford would become our greatest social justice warrior and anti-poverty campaigner. And who else would he give a rare, exclusive interview to at the end of such a monumental year?
28) Greta Thunberg interview
Another beacon of hope for the future is Greta Thunberg, who has woken the world up to the climate emergency and, crucially, the action we can all take.
Speaking to The Big Issue, she drew the links between the environment and challenges those experiencing poverty like our vendors face: “The climate crisis is a social crisis. It mostly affects people who already are the most vulnerable. So without having that in mind, without taking that into account, we won’t be able to solve the climate crisis.”
29) Awards success
In response to our response to the pandemic, we were awarded four honours by the prestigious Professional Publishers Association, the Oscars of the magazine world.
30) Stop Mass Homelessness
While our landmark anniversary brings much nostalgia and reflection at The Big Issue we are also looking ahead.
We know there is a growing and urgent need across Britain as tough financial waves batter so many people. Through no fault of their own, hundreds of thousands face a desperate future.
Covid-19 has seen people who were existing fine before the pandemic pushed into poverty. For 30 years, we worked for our vendors. Now, we have to support so many of our readers. They are on the cliff-edge of crisis.
The Big Issue launched the Stop Mass Homelessness campaign earlier this year in response to a perfect storm of circumstances that brings the real prospect of rising homelessness in the months ahead.
For many, a safety net bolstered by emergency measures such as the furlough scheme and the £20 increase in universal credit (UC) as well as eviction moratoriums was all that prevented them from losing their homes.
Now with that support beginning to disappear – evictions returned in early 2021 while furlough and the UC uplift are set to end in the next few weeks – thousands are in danger of losing their homes.
“More people are at risk of homelessness now than at any time in living memory,” warned Big Issue founder Lord John Bird back in July when The Big Issue revealed that, earlier in 2021, one household had been made homeless every three and a half hours.
Hundreds of thousands of people continue to be at risk of losing their homes, with 4.3 million behind on household bills and 564,000 people in rent arrears.
The Big Issue’s 30 years of supporting people sleeping rough and vulnerably housed has shown that helping people off the streets is not enough – work to prevent them falling into poverty and homelessness in the first place is equally essential.
That’s why we came up with an urgent plan to protect people from losing their homes, starting with a petition that has attracted more than 2,500 signatures.
As well as opposing the UC cut, The Big Issue is calling for £360m of arrears private renters have racked up during the pandemic to be paid off to prevent people being trapped in a cycle of debt.
The Big Issue also urges the UK government to make good on their vow to scrap so-called no-fault evictions – where landlords can remove tenants from their property without giving a specific reason.
The pandemic has also changed the face of work and The Big Issue issued a calling for more jobs and training in sustainable industries to allow people to gain the skills to enter stable employment.
Since launching the campaign in the summer, The Big Issue has been working with frontline experts and building an activist army to take immediate action across the UK.
Scores of Community Champions have stepped up to join The Big Issue on its mission, spreading the word and developing events and actions to prevent rising homelessness.
They have also taken The Big Issue’s warning to the heart of local democracy, urging councillors to sign up to a council motion that will get local authorities talking about how they can protect their residents from losing their homes.
And lots more will be on the way with the campaign in the coming months. We simply cannot allow people to lose their homes.
The Big Issue has worked for three decades to tackle homelessness and prevent poverty. For anyone who needs a hand up, The Big Issue has been there.
But the months ahead represent the biggest challenge yet – we need your support to help us stop mass homelessness and to keep people in their homes.
As we enter our fourth decade, there has never been a greater challenge to ending homelessness in the UK and The Big Issue is needed more ever.
Want to buy a copy of the magazine? We have over 1,200 Big Issue vendors in the UK. Each vendor buys a copy of the mag for £1.50 and sells it for £3, keeping the difference. Visit our interactive map to find your nearest vendor and support them today!