18 June 2023

A familiar sight on the streets of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, the Big Issue has been awarded the title of ‘Hero of the Month’ for June by the Homelessness Partnership BCP.

Co-founded in 1991 by social entrepreneurs Lord Bird and Gordon Roddick, the Big Issue is published in four continents and while the magazine is firmly established in British culture, intense work goes on behind the scenes to help its vendors across BCP to move on from homelessness and lead fulfilled, independent lives.

While its editorial is rooted in social justice and raising the profile of homelessness, sales of the magazine provide vendors who have experienced homelessness with an opportunity to earn income, igniting entrepreneurial spirit that helps those in need to embark on a journey of recovery from rough sleeping.

The Big Issue’s motto is that it provides a ‘hand up, not a hand out’ to people without a home, as well as to those who are at risk of losing their home, experiencing long-term unemployment or dealing with mental health issues.

Vendor Outreach Worker at the Big Issue Group in Bournemouth, Helen Tucker, says: “Our vendors are a mix: some are rough sleeping and will come in and buy small number of magazines each day to sell in Bournemouth, for example.

“Others have slept rough in the past and are now living in privately rented or housing association properties but keep selling to get out and earn income.

“Vendors who have mental health issues find that our flexible approach to selling – they don’t have to work from 9 to 5 – works well for them.”

Partnership working at its finest

The Big Issue’s business model is simple: vendors buy copies of the magazine for £2 and sell them for £4, so £2 per issue sold goes directly into their pockets.

The operation, however, runs much deeper than simply selling magazines and embraces partnership working, as Helen explains: “I look after welfare needs of vendors, working with St Mungo’s to help them into housing and providing support with citizenship where needed.

“We work with the Multi-Disciplinary Team [a service in BCP that strives to find successful pathways for the most serious situations of rough sleeping], while also referring vendors to food banks, Half Time [a collaboration between YMCA and Faithworks that helps people to get off the streets] and BH1, The Salvation Army’s drop-in centre in Boscombe.

“We have vendors who have sold with us for years and are now successfully housed while some have even been helped into retirement.”

The Big Issue works with its Romanian vendors who can have a different set of needs. Most live in privately rented accommodation; can experience citizenship issues and are at risk of poverty.

Many have families and are referred to Bundles That Love, a project of Bournemouth Foodbank that provides families with young children in BCP with essentials.

Thriving in a post-lockdown world

The shift from print to digital, combined with the cost-of-living crisis, has hit many UK publishers hard but up to 45,000 copies of the Big Issue still roll off the press every week – an impressive achievement in a world that’s increasingly dominated by online media.

Last year the organisation saw a 58% growth in reach and a 10% increase in Big Issue vendors, while collective earnings for vendors rose by 38% to £3.76million.

Helen adds: “People who prefer to read online can take out a digital subscription directly from their local vendor via the Big Issue’s website. But many still enjoy going out and having a conversation with their local vendor and buying a physical copy of the magazine.

“We still have occasions where vendors come in to buy more copies, because they have sold out. There was a major cultural shift during lockdown when subscriptions increased, but big challenges remained after Covid eased, with less footfall in town centres. Fortunately, it feels like the situation has now recovered.”

Looking to the future

With a healthy circulation, the Big Issue is a powerful platform that can drive homelessness issues to the top of the political agenda. The cover of a recent issue asked if ‘renters can now feel safe in their homes’ – scrutinising the Renters Reform Bill, dubbed ‘the most significant bill in a generation’ by the magazine.

Hard-hitting editorial examines if the Bill will shift the balance of power towards people who rent or risk a ‘much talked about landlord exodus’ from the private rental sector.

According to the magazine, since the Government promised to axe Section 21 (no-fault) evictions, 63,160 households asked councils for help to avoid homelessness after receiving a Section 21 notice.

This bleak national picture underpins the need for the Homelessness Partnership BCP’s Let’s Talk Renting campaign (visit www.bit.ly/ltr2023) which is providing free advice for private tenants who are in rent arrears or at risk of losing their home.

For Helen, however, the focus is on transforming the lives of vendors in the BCP area. She sums-up: “Our focus is on helping to get sales up and providing vendors with the opportunity to help themselves out of poverty through selling the magazine. They can register as earning money with the DWP through our operation and it’s up to them how many magazines they buy and the hours they work.

“The Big Issue enables vendors to become their own mini-enterprises, it’s a real job that enables people to help themselves out of poverty. We’re a social enterprise, so please continue to support your local vendors.”

Please visit www.bigissue.com to find out more.