A week in the life of a service broker: Martha Luke, Bristol

Monday

Monday mornings we have a Romanian translation volunteer in supporting me to work effectively with my Romanian speaking vendors. We also hold a GRT (Gypsy, Roma, Traveller) drop in on this day with someone from SARI (stand against racism and inequality). The whole point of the drop in is to further support our GRT vendors in accessing the right service which will help tackle their social exclusion.

After the drop in we take a group of Vendors down to Recovery College at St Mungos to enrol them onto ESOL classes. Once they have enrolled they can also attend any of the other courses on offer – we are looking forward to the graduation day again. Last time we had 6 graduates and we’re hoping for more this time round!

In the afternoon we have 2 new people come to be badged up, one is living in a housing association house but is struggling with payments on utility bills and hopes this will top up his income. The other is new to Bristol so we fill in a form for a local doctors which he can register at today and I organise a meeting for him to engage with the local Outreach team. I also submit applications to get them both a birth certificate as they have no formal ID at all and a birth certificate is a good start, if they stick with us we will apply for passports.

Tuesday

This morning I do an Outcome Star with one of our long term vendors, we haven’t seen him that much recently which makes me worry a bit so I am happy when he comes in. He tells me he has not had enough money for gas or electricity for over 2 months as his benefits have been stopped – he has put in an appeal but this is taking a long time and it has now impacted his housing benefit and the housing association have sent him a first notice of possession. I ring Talking Money for advice, they encourage us to attend their debt drop in tomorrow morning.

I then attend a multi-agency meeting with the police and the council and some other organisations from around the city – we discuss the issue of begging in the city and how we can and will each support people in financial crisis.   That afternoon me and an my distribution colleague Kitty go out on Outreach in the city centre engaging with people begging, inviting them into our office to find out more about becoming a vendor.

Wednesday

I go straight to Talking Money where I meet the vendor from yesterday, we are the first in the queue so get seen really quickly. He is booked into the next available benefit support slot which is next week and they contact his Housing Association and Housing Benefit to let them know what the situation is and we are given time to sort it out before more actions are taken. He is also given a voucher for some electricity and gas from the Energy Advice Team and a food bank voucher.

From here I go for a meeting at the Bristol Drugs Project – I learn a lot, it is really productive and it’s great for me to build contacts so I can more effectively refer any vendors with addictions in the future.

Thursday

I have another translator in today so I get as many of my Romanian speaking vendors in for reviews. Our first appointment a lady tells me she has recently moved and their old landlord is not returning the deposit – I speak with Avon and Bristol Law Centre about the case, we decide going to Shelter is the best option here so I gather the information for the vendor and they agree to go next week with the volunteer.

After this National Careers Service come in and do 3 CVs for vendors who are looking to move on from selling in the next couple of months.

From our reviews today we identify that many of our Roma vendors are not registered with GPs. I liaise with the Community Engagement Worker who runs a Roma Drop In to see what we can do about this collaboratively and decide on organising a day dedicated to Big Issue Vendors attending the drop in and receiving all the necessary information and being signposted to their local GPs. This is also an opportunity for them to speak with her about anything else they may need support with e.g. enrolling their child in school, accessing stop smoking support etc.

Friday

Today I am joining another distribution colleague Kate on a trip to Weston-Super-Mare, at the moment we only have one vendor selling there but we would like to open up more pitches and engage with local people offering them the opportunity to sell. We head straight to the local day centre and meet with the staff who are really happy we are building the area up again as they see plenty of people using their services who would benefit from being a vendor, they tell us that there has been a sizable increase in rough sleepers there recently. We leave some posters and leaflets, we hope some people will get in contact. We identify some new pitches in the town and then engage with some potential vendors, we have one person who wants to be badged up straight away so we take him for a coffee to complete the induction, he gets his free magazines and off he goes! We’ll be back early next week to see how he’s getting on.

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