Opinion

To all The Big Issue readers throughout the Covid crisis: Thanks a million

You’ve helped us give away £1m. That’s a hell of a story

big issue vendors

The £1m figure is significant. It keeps rolling, proudly, around in my mind.

To date, since the start of the Covid crisis, The Big Issue has given £1m to our vendors.

That fact bears repeating. The very thought of it just knocks my socks off.

It’s not all cash. There have been various kinds of support, including shopping vouchers and utility top-up cards. On one occasion, The Big Issue bought a vendor, laid-low by a chronic condition, housebound and feeling the walls close in, a reconditioned rowing machine. It changed her life. I love that story.

It was a big change for The Big Issue to start handing funds out. Since our launch nearly 30 years ago, under the investment of Gordon Roddick and the rocket propulsion of John Bird, we have been a hand-up organisation. The Hand Up Not a Handout mantra has been so hardwired into our DNA that staff wake in the middle of the night and roar it at the walls.

And then Covid turned everything on its head. We had to put our hand out so that we could pass funds along to our vendors. They could not trade, so we had to help.

Read The Big Issue Impact Report: Surviving Covid and Beyond

I say we. The reality is this couldn’t have happened without you. If you hadn’t, in your thousands, in your tens of thousands, supported us, we’d have been gone. And our vendors would have been in a world of trouble.

But you subscribed and you donated, and you encouraged and you sent messages and notes to us and to your vendors. You directed subscriptions to individual vendors through the online map we built.

And here we are, handing out £1m, and more (!), to some of the most vulnerable people in Britain.

If you hadn’t, in your thousands, in your tens of thousands, supported us, we’d have been gone. And our vendors would have been in a world of trouble

We’re not a government agency. We can’t call on the infinite pockets of a quiet benefactor. Yet in the grip of the worst peacetime crisis in a century, an event that threatened our very existence, we galvanised and found a way to get over £1m out the door to people who needed it most. It makes me feel very proud.

Part of a journalist’s role is to maintain a sharpened cynicism, to not take what we’re told immediately but to challenge and to deliver facts and truth, hopefully with some style. Don’t make it boring. Also, journalists are the most incredible gossips. But that isn’t really relevant here.

The thing is, while there remains a need to keep the antennae up for shysters and double-talkers and crooks, from wherever they emerge, Covid has proved something that hopefully will remain; people are good. People, the great majority, want to help. The examples are boundless just now. I saw a tweet as I sat to write this from a councillor in Lewisham who was looking after a foodbank. He said a woman had come in and donated £500. She had been saving it for a long weekend away with her husband. But her husband had died. She lived nearby and she had seen people queuing for food. She felt they could really use the money. Her late husband would have approved, she said.

I’d rather find stories like that just now. About people going out and quietly doing good.

Like you all have. You’ve helped us give away £1m. That’s a hell of a story.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue

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For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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