Opinion

Paul McNamee: Adding value to people’s lives

"Not taking The Big Issue magazine after buying it removes the self-respect vendors earn as traders"

How much does The Big Issue cost?

A vendor sells The Big Issue magazine

Last week I watched a man buy The Big Issue. It’s something I like to do often. I’ll idle near a vendor and watch who stops.

It’s fascinating. You see how people react, or don’t react, to our vendors. You see the sort of people who are chatters or those who are grab-the-mag-and-stuff-in-bag sorts. Or those who offer money but refuse the magazine and wander on. They believe they are doing good – and there is generosity at heart. But I want to run after them and give them The Talk.

I never tire of repeating the reason why it’s important to ALWAYS take the magazine. Aside from the oddity of paying for something but not taking it, and from missing out on something to read, the not taking reduces the vendor. They are business people – buying, selling, becoming a vital part of the community. By not taking the magazine all self-respect that can be earned in being a trader is lost.

I never tire of repeating the reason why it’s important to ALWAYS take the magazine

The young man last week didn’t need The Talk. I noticed him on Buchanan Street in Glasgow as he glanced over at a vendor and then did an immediate double-take when he spied the Daniel Radcliffe cover. He trotted over, he paid, he took the magazine, the vendor was happy and he seemed happy too. As I wandered up the street after him (I was curious!), I watched as he turned to the main feature, reading as he went. I stopped following when I feared it was getting a bit stalkerish.

Later, I read an interview with Jacques Attali. A noted economist, political strategist and one of those very French modern Enlightenment kind of thinkers, he is, amongst other things, known for predicting the collapse of the music industry, during the days it was still high on the hog.

In the interview he warned that the next collapse coming was in manufacturing. People who make things are going to suffer as 3D printers surge and the rest of us make our own things at home with a few designs we find online and a blast of ink.

What will remain valuable, he was asked. Time, he said. Time is rare. And that, I thought, is where we come in, celebrating the idea that experiences will grow as the most potent of currencies.

The Big Issue is in the business of meeting that need. It’s not all we do, of course. Being a vital, non-governmental company providing a practical means for the poorest to pull themselves up is important but that is only half of it. The other half is you.

And if we can provide the means for you to be so diverted on the street you change your behaviour, that is excellent. Or if we can present the opportunity for you to chat to our vendors, learning something of them and their lives, something you wouldn’t learn if they weren’t selling The Big Issue (which in turn feeds a virtuous circle as this allows our vendors a route back into communities) – well, you can’t put a price on that.

Actually you can. It’s £2.50. New edition every Monday. Tell everybody!

If you have any comments please email me at paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com, tweet @pauldmcnamee, or send a letter to The Big Issue, 43 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 1HW

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Vendor martin Hawes

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