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Opinion

Paul McNamee: Speak up to save a life

Reviving the lost art of conversation could make all the difference. Small talk saves lives on the railways and the street

It rolled out first from the Samaritans and railway companies. Small talk, they said, saves lives. It was a neat play on loose talk costing lives. The era of the stiff upper lip is gone. Thankfully.

The campaign, last week, came about because of startling figures. In 2016/17, some 273 people died in suicides on Britain’s railways. There is no nice way to sugarcoat that.

Don’t let the moment pass. Act. Speak. Start with ‘hello’ and busk it from there. You could change a life

However, there was something positive in the figures. For every life lost, six were saved. And they were saved because somebody spoke to them. A simple word, a remark about the weather, the smallest intervention was frequently enough to break people from the dark, locked-in moment.  The campaign came with a video from Sarah Wilson, a woman on the brink of ending it all, explaining how she came through. It’s incredibly potent and moving.

Coincidentally, figures followed from a different survey that said two thirds of people in Scotland never stopped to speak to homeless people. This was not a survey designed to show up Scots as a particularly uncaring bunch. Rather, it was carried out in Scotland. And you can comfortably reason that similar statistics would be drawn in the rest of Britain.

We know this because our vendors tell us how bitterly hard it can be.

The Big Issue red tabard shines brightly on the streets across the nation, a beacon of hope and indefatigability, a national icon, a symbol of what  can be achieved, of working back from the margins to normality. But when a lot of people get closer to it, the tabard becomes magic. It takes on the property of Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak and the wearer simply vanishes.

Of course, this is not the case for everybody.  We sell a lot of magazines. Our readers are loyal and we thank every single one of you – you especially. A great number of people stop and talk and buy.

But we encourage more. We encourage you to encourage your friends. Even if you don’t buy the magazine but just to say hello. You might be the first person that our vendor has spoken to that day. Imagine how good that’d make them feel. Imagine how good that’ll make you feel. It’s a glorious win-win.

Feelings of isolation can grow as Christmas approaches. And boy is it approaching.

Don’t let the moment pass. Act. Speak. Start with ‘hello’ and busk it from there. You could change a life.

National Vendor Week 2024

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