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Opinion

Prince William: ‘Why I wanted to work with The Big Issue’

The Duke of Cambridge writes about why he took to the streets to sell The Big Issue and why ending homelessness is a cause close to his heart

I was 11 when I first visited a homeless shelter with my mother, who in her own inimitable style was determined to shine a light on an overlooked, misunderstood problem.  

 The Big Issue had launched just two years before, offering people the opportunity to earn a legitimate income by selling a magazine to the public and providing a solution to the issues that saw a growing number of people on the streets of the nation’s capital.  

 In the 30-odd years since, I’ve seen countless projects in this space grow from strength to strength, including charities of which I have had the honour of being Patron. New initiatives have been launched up and down the country – some have worked, some have not. But The Big Issue, perhaps now the most immediately recognisable of these organisations, has undeniably had an impact. Its social business model has provided a means of making a living to 105,000 vendors who have earned over £144 million. 

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 Looking back helps us to see how far we’ve come, but problems are fixed in the present. And despite all the progress, homelessness is still seen by many as some entrenched phenomenon over which we have little power. And there are worrying signs that things might soon get worse as people feel the effects of higher prices and find it harder to make ends meet.  

 And although we can’t fix all of that at once, I refuse to believe that homelessness is an irrevocable fact of life. It is an issue that can be solved, but that requires a continued focus and comprehensive support network.

Thankfully there are brilliant, compassionate people working tirelessly to support those that find themselves in that vulnerable position and to provide opportunity when it is most needed. 

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And people up and down the country fulfil small acts of kindness as they purchase a street magazine or make a donation to someone on the street before proceeding on with their day.

I wanted to experience the other side and see what it was like to be a Big Issue vendor. My time was truly eye opening. I was lucky to join Dave on a warm, sunny day in June. People recognised a familiar face and were happy to give me the time of day. But that isn’t the case for the vast majority of Big Issue vendors, who sell year-round – including through the bleak winter months – and are barely given a second glance by passers-by.  

A special edition of The Big Issue tells the story behind the Duke of Cambridge taking to the streets to sell magazines

A hardworking, funny, joyful man, Dave is the kind of person we should all be actively encouraging and supporting. Instead, people often just ignore him. And while The Big Issue provides a mechanism by which Dave can provide for himself, earn a living and – in his words – regain some self-respect, it is reliant on us playing our part too. Because he can only succeed if we recognise him, we see him and we support him. 

If you’re reading this, then it’s because you’ve met someone like Dave who needed your help and you chose to offer it.  

With that small act of kindness, you’ve made a difference. And I hope you continue to do that while encouraging those around you to do the same in the future – to see the person behind the red tabard, or the cardboard sign, or the empty cup. 

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Each of our vendors buy their copies of the mag for £1.50 each, selling them for £3 and keeping the difference. Visit our interactive map to find your nearest vendor.

I count myself extremely lucky to have a role that allows me to meet people from all walks of life, and to understand their full story – whatever it may be. It’s a privilege that many of us, busy with our days, don’t always afford.  

And while I may seem like one of the most unlikely advocates for this cause, I have always believed in using my platform to help tell those stories and to bring attention and action to those who are struggling. I plan to do that now I’m turning 40, even more than I have in the past. 

Princess Diana, William and Harry at The Passage in 1993
Princess Diana visited The Passage with her young sons William and Harry in 1993 Photo: Courtesy of The Passage

So, for my part, I commit to continue doing what I can to shine a spotlight on this solvable issue not just today, but in the months and years to come.  

And in the years ahead, I hope to bring George, Charlotte and Louis to see the fantastic organisations doing inspiring work to support those most in need – just as my mother did for me.  

As she instinctively knew, and as I continue to try and highlight, the first step to fixing a problem is for everyone to see it for what it truly is. 

Read more about what happened when Prince William sold The Big Issue:

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work please buy a copy.

You can search for your local vendor, or click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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