Health Week 2014 report

Promoting health and wellbeing among Big Issue vendors

Each year The Big Issue Foundation runs a week of activities designed to promote, inform and encourage positive health among Big Issue vendors. The 2014 Health Week ran from 3-8 November across 10 cities.

The overriding aim of health week is to improve the mental and physical health and wellbeing of vendors. Four main themes set the framework for the various activities undertaken across the country.

These were:

  • Improving access to screening and vaccinations
  • Nutritional advice and guidance
  • Health needs relating to alcohol, drugs and sexual health  awareness
  • Promoting positive physical and mental health

Through an incredibly wide range of initiatives, vendors were encouraged to become more active in taking care of their own mental and physical health. A range of interventions were used, to encourage as many vendors to participate as possible, and tailored to the often sensitive circumstances in which individuals can find themselves. The intention was for vendors to gain increased confidence and motivation to manage their own health, and take long term responsibility for their own health needs.

Screening, vaccinations and check ups

Many centres offered individual questionnaires followed by health check ups, including blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, blood sugar testing, blood born virus testing, stopping smoking etc. The check ups were particularly helpful in identifying vendors who had no dentist or GP, and many of them were offered immediate support to register. The health check ups were supported by health packs providing information leaflets, and useful items such as gloves, hats, tissues, soap, healthy snack bars, and emergency rain ponchos.
Around 30 vendors received a flu jab, and more went on to receive a jab after registering with a GP. Following his flu jab, one new vendor in London was referred to a local GP service, and also to mental health support services. This is typical of many examples of where access to one service can lead to help and support with identifying other health needs at the same time.

Dental support proved very popular, with the arrival of the NHS Tooth Bus in Bournemouth and Southampton, and NHS Smile for Life in Edinburgh. Dental checks, health and hygiene advice and referrals were taken up by many vendors, including one vendor from Bournemouth who hadn’t braved the dentist for 15 years!
Podiatry services were also offered by a number of centres, including Bristol where vendors received much needed foot treatments.

Nutritional advice and guidance

Possibly the most popular activity of the entire week was the provision of healthy, free breakfasts for vendors. Hardly surprising, but they proved an excellent opportunity to engage vendors in other activities and were generously supported by sponsors such as Pret a Manger.
Several centres provided cookery workshops, such as Southampton who showed vendors how to make a cheap healthy pizza, and Bath, who also gave vendors a chance to try out their omelette cooking skills, and offered a blind tasting session! In Glasgow, support was provided by Woodland Community Gardens, who demonstrated how to make a super healthy minestrone soup at minimal cost.

Diet and nutritional advice was offered in many centres, using imaginative and practical methods such as sessions on shopping on a budget, and how to eat 5 fruit and veg a day. Glasgow ran a healthy recipe competition, and set up a Healthy and Warm in winter information board.

Health needs relating to alcohol, drugs and sexual health awareness

Almost every centre provided support with alcohol and drug related issues, often through outreach, where people sometimes feel more comfortable to chat openly about their issues. In Bristol, specific training was given on how to respond in an over-dose situation, and other centres ran specific workshops on alcohol awareness. As a result, some of the long term vendors who rarely engage with these services have agreed to continue accessing support.
Nottingham offered Blood born virus screening by The Health Shop, with the option of further Sexual Health screenings or one to one sessions with a health worker. Condoms were also given out as appropriate.

Promoting positive physical and mental health

This is where the imaginations ran riot! Centres tried their very best to engage vendors using a variety of creative opportunities. In Bath, the Minerva Centre offered reflexology sessions which were so popular they are looking in to having future sessions, and Edinburgh certainly got creative with a session of laughter yoga (no I have no idea what this is either!), and a one minute star jump challenge, before vendors were allowed to buy their magazines!
A number of vendors identified a need for improved access to mental health services, and in Oxford a Mental Health and Wellbeing workshop was provided with staff from Oxford Mind.
Opportunities to learn about community safety, have eye tests, learn about accessing the internet in libraries, have a barbershop hair cut and take part in yoga sessions show more imaginative opportunities on offer over an enjoyable week.

The clear theme which underpinned all the activities throughout the week was identifying health needs and learning how to access appropriate services. For many vendors, health services are only accessed in times of crisis. Many of the events have some form of planned follow up, often involving other groups or agencies who work with us to support vendors.

Sponsorship and Support

The Big Issue Foundation would like to say an enormous thank you to the following organisations and individuals who supported health week 2014:


Little Theatre; Boston Tea Party; Sirona Healthcare; Duff Cooks; Riverford Organic Farms; Thyme Deli; Pret a Manger; Minerva Centre; Lloyds Bank


Pret a Manger; Vision Care; Community Mental Health Homeless Team; Addaction, The Health Exchange


NHS Tooth Bus; Bournemouth and Poole Discount health food stores, Kate Pratt; NHS Smoke Stop; NHS Podiatry; NHS BBV service; Bournemouth and Poole Rough Sleeper Team


Sema4 Graphics; Mr M.W. Griffiths; Terence Higgins Trust; Pret a Manger; Wild Oats; Compass Health, Golden Key Programme


Edinburgh Leisure; Crisis Skylight; St John’s Church; City of Edinburgh Council; NHS Smile for Life;  Pret a Manger


Citizen’s Advice Bureau; NHS North Western Health Improvement Team; Pret a Manger; Woodlands Community Gardens; Glasgow Dental Hospital; Sandyford Clinic; Tunnocks Teacakes; Resilient First Aid


Lambeth Primary Care Trust; Buckle Advanced Dental Care; The Queen’s Nursing Institute


The Health Shop; Community Nutrition Team; Street Wise Opera; Smiles mobile dental team; Homeless Health Team 


Lush; Pret a Manger; LASARS; Smoking Cessation; Oxford Mind;


Training For Work in Communities; Toothbus; Pound to Pound Boxing; Lush; Two Saints

Share this page