A week in the life of a service broker: Tom Ward, Bristol

A week in the life of Service Broker: Tom Ward, Bristol


Preparing my ‘to do’ list for the week in our Bristol office is interrupted by vendor Paul asking if I have time to talk to him. His health is deteriorating and he needs to see a doctor. I check out the schedule of GPs available through Bristol’s homeless health service and advise he can access a GP this afternoon at a local homeless centre. Another vendor wants some advice about a letter he’s received from a debt recovery company. It seems like a debt from nearly 10 years ago has caught up with him. Mike has been off the streets for a couple of years but we continue to offer support and advice for as long as he needs it. I make an appointment with a local debt advice centre and once he opens a case with them it’ll buy him time while they help him evaluate his situation.


This morning I have a meeting with a vocational education provider to discuss vendors taking NVQ Level 2 qualifications in Customer Service. It’s something we’ve done very successfully before but had to stop as funding dried up. It looks like we can start them up again with a different provider, which is fantastic news. It allows vendors to formalise all the skills they utilise in their working day and gain a nationally recognised qualification.


We have a significant number of Polish vendors in Bristol with English skills that range from excellent to very basic. We have a Polish volunteer every Wednesday morning interpreting for us and vendors know they can call into the office for help and advice. Today we advise on debt, benefit entitlement, housing providers and obtaining a replacement passport and ID card. In the afternoon we run English lessons with the help of an ESOL teaching volunteer. Learning English is absolutely key to employability and the ability to integrate into UK society so in addition to referring vendors to English lessons with external providers we do offer access to learning here at the Big Issue office.


A new vendor has an appointment for an induction. Part of the process is an assessment of their current situation and needs. The priority for Dave is to meet with Bristol’s rough sleeping outreach team and see a GP to explore the support available for his longstanding problems with alcohol. We make appointments and I print a map and directions. I’ll try and keep in close contact with him over the coming days to check his progress and offer help if required.


Friday mornings we have a regular drop-in with a worker from a local mental health and wellbeing service. It’s very informal and more about building relationships than a hard sell of services. It provides ready access to clinical psychologists, peer support groups, courses on emotional awareness and coping strategies, plus alternative therapies and relaxation exercises.