Things changed quickly. A matter of days ago, and it seems like a lifetime, we removed The Big Issue vendors from the streets of Britain. It was becoming clear, at incredible speed, that they were unsafe. The streets are tough enough at the best of times. When they’re stalked by an invisible enemy that picks on the weakest, and your people have underlying problems putting them right in the crosshairs, you’ve got to act. And so, for the first time since John Bird wrestled this magazine into being 29 years ago, an edition didn’t appear on the street. That was a hell of an emotional thing to happen.
But that was just the start. No time to rest and ponder. It precipitated a complete change in how we work. Our means of operation have been hardwired since day one. A hand up, not a handout. We create a magazine, we sell it to the marginalised people of Britain, the poorest, those who are most often neglected or ignored, they get it from us for half the cover price, then they sell for cover price. That’s their income, their legitimate income. It’s a way to earn, a way to re-socialise, a way to work and get self-confidence and pride; a centring and a future. So when that is gone, what do you?
This is what you do. You remember why you’re doing it, you work out how to get that magazine to the public and then how you get that money and support to the vendors, to the 1,500 men and women who sell every week. And you have the entire company, suddenly, shockingly, BRILLIANTLY pointing in a new direction. And hot dog, how they have done it!
If you’re one of our new readers, thank you and welcome
And damn it all, how you, the British public have engaged and helped!
Buy a subscription, we asked, buy it for three months and we can help vendors now, and we can be here when this ends to help the numbers of people who’ll need us then. How you answered. How you answered!
We’ve had thousands of new subscribers so far. Not the 60,000 we’re gunning for, but we’re getting there. If you’re one of our new readers, thank you and welcome. If you’re buying in a shop, thank you. That is also a first. It’s been a time of a lot of firsts. An app is coming shortly.
Last year, 27,000 people worldwide earned an income selling street papers, making a total of £23.4 million.
The solutions we’re working on are not perfect. We’ll adapt as we go and get better. But there is something clear emerging at this time. People are good. Difficult times are a paint-stripper on cynicism. It gets melted off. It makes the normally reserved stand outside their doors to clap and holler into the dark for those who work in the NHS. And we can never go back. When equilibrium returns, there will be no suggestion ever again that the NHS implements ‘efficiencies’. Proper pay, no questions.
It makes people look around to see if they can help a neighbour, to see if they can extend a hand (no touching!) and to try to make life better.
So thank you for coming along with us. Keep shouting to your friends that we could use more subscribers. And enjoy The Big Issue. There’s enough here to keep you in happy isolation for a while. Until the next one…
Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue