A week in the life – Michael Hill and Hannah Smith, Service Brokers in Oxford


Monday is our busiest day at the office: the new magazine is out and vendors arrive early in the morning to buy their copies, book pitches and plan their sales for the week ahead. I take this opportunity to chat to vendors about last week’s sales, what they have going on and what support they might need. This week, I talk to vendor Sean about theupcoming Big Sleep Out. Sean has taken part in many Foundation events before and is looking forward to doing so again. We talk about his fundraising efforts, travel arrangements and his invitation to speak at the event about his role as a vendor. He is apprehensive but proud of the opportunity to talk about his experiences to Big Issue Foundation supporters. He’s a great ambassador of our work and demonstrates well the ability people have to overcome adversity. In the afternoon, I meet with another vendor who is new to Oxford. He wants to return to college to undertake English qualifications with a view towards pursuing further education. Together, we make a plan to help him reach this goal. In Oxford, we’re lucky to have Ruskin College, which offers further and higher education for adults with few or no qualifications. We get in touch with them to find out what they offer and, after identifying appropriate courses, apply online. The vendor is determined to reach this goal and he’s on the right track already. We’ll be on hand to support him with this going forward.


Today there is important work to be done as I’m supporting a vendor to move into a hostel. Lionel found himself in a very difficult housing situation after being evicted from his tenancy. Barriers to alternative accommodation were great and his options were limited, so myself and Hannah worked hard to ensure he wouldn’t have to sleep rough and successfully secured a hostel bed for him. We meet in the morning to clarify arrangements for the move-in and agree to meet at the hostel in the afternoon. I meet Lionel there and help him take his bags to his new room. Lionel is glad to have a fresh start and put his recent housing difficulties behind him. I arrange to meet him again next week to help him resettle. We’ll notify relevant organisations of his new address and begin work on tackling his debts. I’m in constant communication with his support network to ensure we’re all working together to best support this vendor. I’m off now until Friday and leave our vendors in Hannah’s very capable hands. I make sure to brief her fully on the work I’ve been doing so she’s ready to pick up where I left off.


I check my mail – an email I receive today is a poster about a new IT course at Aspire, a local organisation that helps vulnerable people into employment. After printing and displaying the poster, it’s time to open. I chat to the vendors and find out that one has fallen behind with his energy bills, so I support him to set up an affordable repayment plan with his energy supplier. He will be able to have a warm shower again. Now he’ll go out to work to earn the money. Another arrives for his three-month review: we do this with all our vendors to assess how things are improving, set new goals and plan interventions that might help them. We use a tool called an outcome STAR to track the key topics we discuss. One topic is accommodation – he is working with his keyworker and the council to increase his accommodation banding from a five to a two. This will increase the chances of him moving on into a local authority property. The hard work he is putting into this area means that we agree on an eight on the STAR chart. This is a good improvement from last time. We discuss his hopes of eventually going back to his building work. Part of his work towards this might be taking up new hobbies, so I give him information on a football group and a local Rotary Club. In the afternoon I go to a network meeting about rough sleepers. They are a vulnerable group so it’s vital that every organisation within the network works collaboratively in order to provide the best possible support. After the meeting, I walk around the sales pitches in Oxford city centre and check in with the vendors as they are selling, catching up about needs and making suggestions of places that could help.


Our volunteer, Mair, is working with me today. While I catch up with vendors and offer referrals, she takes flyers to the Simon House hostel and does a drop-in there to offer the opportunity of selling The Big Issue to residents. Next, she meets someone from Crisis Skylight and takes them around The Big Issue pitches to give vendors timetables and discuss the courses Crisis have to offer. I also start outreach and catch up with a couple of vendors. I see three people who are out begging and offer them the opportunity of The Big Issue as a positive alternative. They each take a contact card. Mair and I meet and de-brief. She tells me who is interested in the courses so that I can follow up later. We plan a new project for her – she is going to get some quirky quotes from the vendors and create material that will help the public get to know their vendors. We agree that promoting the ethos of The Big Issue, to offer a hand up, not a hand out, is a good way of helping vendors with their sales. I begin my writing-up to hand over to Michael and to help us feedback to funders in our reports.


It’s 6.30am and I’m undertaking a monthly joint outreach with Oxford’s rough sleeper outreach team. This work helps me to stay in touch with the street community, support the outreach team in their work and promote The Big Issue as an opportunity to earn a legitimate income. I give out my card and encourage a couple of people to visit the office to get badged up. By 9.30am I’m at the office and catch up with the work Hannah has been doing. Good communication is essential for us to work together effectively. I induct a new vendor who is rough sleeping with his dog. I refer him to the rough sleeper outreach team, which can support him off the streets, and also to the Dogs Trust Hope Project so he can access free veterinary treatment for his dog. He’s keen to move away from begging towards a more constructive lifestyle. Today he’s made the first step towards social and financial inclusion and The Big Issue Foundation will be there to support him on this journey.