Paul McNamee: Celebrate your vendor’s forward-thinking

We also know that technology is galloping along so that vendors who are prepared to invest, like Robin, will see the benefits.

We still get the angry letters. In fact, we still get non-angry letters too. One of the joys of working at The Big Issue is that when we talk of a mailbag, it’s not just a virtual one. Correspondence, handwritten, typed, sometimes with letters cut out and stuck on pages, arrive daily. But the angry ones repeat a pattern.

Why, they demand, does that Big Issue vendor have a phone? Why does that vendor have better trainers  than me? Why doesn’t that vendor look more, you know, homeless?

The answer is always the same. Because they’re working. Because they’re WORKING!

The men and women who sell The Big Issue are making a decision to work their way back into society. They take the bold step to stand out on the street and sell this magazine. To stand outside, come what may, to face the public and build
their futures.

They make an investment. They buy The Big Issue for half the cover price and go out and trade. That is a gamble. They make calculations, business decisions, how many do they need, what is the time of day for a particular passing trade. They go out onto the street and bravely begin.


In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.

If they have good trainers or a phone it’s because they’re working and The Big Issue is working for them. They’re earning, they’re saving. Salute the trainers!

One of the big investors recently was Robin Fabian. He is a vendor who sells outside the Coop at St Michael’s Hill in Bristol.

We revealed a few weeks ago that Robin bought himself a debit card payment reader for £30. The reader paid for itself in extra sales within days.

The details took Robin’s story viral, going right across the press and TV, making Robin a figurehead for forward-thinking and entrepreneurial spirit.

At The Big Issue, we know that one of the biggest challenges our vendors face is an increasingly cashless society. We know that people want to get their Big Issue but don’t always have change.

We also know that technology is galloping along so that vendors who are prepared to invest, like Robin, will see the benefits.

The reaction to Robin’s story has been fascinating. During a presentation last week I was asked how organisations tied to technology and banking could help.

And the answer is simple – what have you got? We’re keen to hear of plans and ideas on what the next stage could be, to allow vendors to be involved and, importantly, how to cash-up at the end of the day.

An army of vendors with digital technology in their hands? I can’t wait to read the letters about that.