A Week in the Life of Gabi Sima, Service Broker, Birmingham

It’s our busiest day of the week. Cold weather is approaching and we’re seeing an influx of new vendors who need to sell The Big Issue to make it through this winter. Initial assessments and inductions bring up a host of immediate challenges that we can support vendors to resolve.

Today I emailed an embassy to help a vendor who made a mistake filling out a passport application – the issue was resolved.

I then supported a young vendor who had just turned 18 and was pregnant with her second child to make an appointment with a Young Parent Advisor so she can access childcare.

I also accompanied a vendor to attend an appointment at the Citizens Advice Bureau to help him with a fine that he couldn’t pay because of his low income.

The day starts with a short meeting with my distribution colleagues. It’s important that we all work as a team and stay up to date with the previous week’s developments.

I ended up with only a few minutes to finish preparing the imminent English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) lesson, as vendors are already coming into the office. My students are doing their best to learn English and have many questions. This lesson focused on giving personal information, including introductions and etiquette.

After the class, my colleagues and I update vendors’ badges and offer new vendors support to find a pitch where they can sell.

A little while later a vendor comes in and asks us to help him with a doctor’s appointment because he can’t hear well and speaks limited English. We rang the GP, arranged an appointment with an interpreter and ensured the vendor knew when the appointment was so he can attend.

I begin the day by organising a sewing lesson for a group of vendors who expressed an interest in learning this skill. Learning to sew can help vendors save money and reduce isolation. I contact Springfield Project, who will run the session, to discuss how we can engage vendors in this activity.

Later on, I worked on a bilingual presentation in Romanian and English to raise vendors’ awareness of modern slavery. This is a project we are delivering in collaboration with Transforming Communities.

Today I met with the Senior Education & Training Manager from Umbrella – a University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust service that provides free sexual health services across Birmingham and Solihull. We will work together to raise awareness of The Big Issue and The Big Issue Foundation among Umbrella’s partners. Our first step will be to present at the next partners event in order to put the support we offer on the radar of as many organisations as possible.

Next, I phoned a long-term vendor who was offered a job at Birmingham New Street station following a stint on the Network Rail corporate pitch there. We agreed a time when he is free to be interviewed for The Big Issue and for the Railway Station Newsletter. I also check to find out how he’s coping with having to give up selling the magazine while he waits for his first payment from the new job. We discuss the location of the local soup kitchen and how to access a food voucher should the need arise.

Today I catch up with vital admin, ensuring all our partner agency contacts are in the system.

Next, I put information about eye health up on our notice board, ahead of National Eye Week. I pin up some eye test vouchers, recipes that support good eye health, and a small test that you can do by yourself to check if you have any reasons to be concerned about your eyes.

Later, a vendor comes in for a referral to the Ready for Work Programme. Selling the magazine has been her first job and she’s keen to progress up the ladder. I take her through the process and make the referral. This could be a great opportunity for her to gain financial independence.

The Big Issue Foundation values personal development, growth and change above all else. Whether it’s a big change or a small one, we provide ongoing coaching and support to vendors so that they can take positive steps forward. Will you support our Winter Appeal and help equip and empower a Big Issue vendor to progress forward in their lives?

Photography by Matt Sheehan