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Opinion

Paul McNamee: New thinking will see us through this

We all, with our vendors, need you to keep supporting The Big Issue in the weeks ahead

And so here we are. From now, nothing is certain. Yet the ability to adapt at incredible pace, with strength and stoicism, has been staggering. Three weeks ago, if we wanted to take our child out of school for a non-holiday day, fines were threatened. Now, we don’t know when schools will reopen, how those students who have worked for years towards exams will be examined, or how parents are going to entertain children full of energy who are, essentially, locked in.

Let it never be said again that this generation of young people are soft and entitled. When they get through this, and they will, they will be changed. They will be tougher people, they will be perhaps more calm, but they will have a perspective different from now. I hope they can marry the toughness with their innate buoyancy. That’ll be something.

We believe that we will be needed more than ever when the skies clear.

At The Big Issue, of course, we feel the changes keenly. Our reason for being is to provide those on the margins of society with a means to an income. Last Friday we took the decision to remove the magazine, and our vendors, from Britain’s streets. This marked the first time in almost 29 years that a magazine would not appear. The decision to stop selling on the streets was taken for two reasons. The first is that it’s not safe for vendors out there anymore. Many of our vendors have underlying health issues. The virus is deadly and known to act faster in those with underlying health conditions. The second is that the government told us they were going to start removing rough sleepers to hotel beds. This is positive news. This began in London over the weekend and we are working with them to make this easier.

We recognise that while this will remove vendors from the street, not all of our vendors are rough sleepers and they will all need income. For this reason we have created a number of alternative ways for people to buy the magazine, along with an appeal fund. In keeping with The Big Issue ethos, 50% of net proceeds from the fund and alternative distribution models (including subscriptions) will go directly to supporting vendors.

A question we are getting asked frequently is what happens now, quickly followed by what can I do to help? You, and so many others, are full of heart and decency. We have been working to change the model of how we function – changes that 10 days ago were unthinkable. We will reiterate this again and again. You can help by taking a subscription to The Big Issue. Our target is to sell 60,000 three-month subscriptions. If we do, we can help the 1,500 men and women who will see their income disappear. We can post copies to your door, we can sort you out with digital copies. It’s an isolation busting delight! Within days, we’ll launch a new Big Issue app that will bring you even more of the content that can take you through. The sales money will go into a central pot, and from there we can hand it out.

Our distribution teams are speaking to vendors, explaining plans and working out the best ways to help them access the money. This will also help make sure that The Big Issue is here when the crisis is over. We believe that we will be needed more than ever when the skies clear.

Rest assured, the men and women who work in The Big Issue are doing everything they can. Like everybody across society, they have been shaken. But they have not stopped. Their focus has been on making sure we can deliver for The Big Issue vendors. Whether it’s creating a magazine, updating news and information online, working right at the front line to help vendors in the moment, or adapting the very way we are to make sure we can keep helping, there has been a tireless, selfless focus.

We all, with our vendors, need you to keep supporting The Big Issue in the weeks ahead. Together we stand.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue

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