The 17th March is usually a celebratory day for me. I’m from Ireland and enjoy nothing more than a pint and a bowl of Irish stew to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
However, last year was very different. Last year I turned up to The Big Issue Foundation office to collect my essentials as the office was closing for lockdown.
Although working from home isn’t ideal for me, I wasn’t too worried. What I was really worried about was Big Issue vendors.
Just days later, it was confirmed that for the first time ever Big Issue vendors would be asked to stop selling the magazine.
Big Issue vendors, many of whom live in vulnerable conditions, lost their income overnight. They would remain in lockdown for 15 weeks with 2 more national lockdowns to follow.
Our entire way of working was based on face-to-face interactions with vendors and suddenly this was no longer possible. The magazine was forced to adapt its business model and we had to find innovative ways to continue to support Big Issue vendors.
Our priority was to make sure everyone had somewhere to stay, connecting those without a secure bed with outreach teams across the country. We then worked on connecting vendors with food banks and providing supermarket vouchers.
We immediately took £25,000 from our charity reserves to provide regular support for vendors.
We managed to contact most vendors quickly and welfare calls became a staple part of our work this year. Many vendors felt desperate, not knowing how they will pay their rent, their bills, or buy food. For many vendors, we were their only support and contact.
Fuel poverty is another real issue for vendors. Through the Vendor Support Fund, funded by the public, we helped those struggling to pay for gas and electricity to ensure they weren’t getting into debt with their energy providers. During the latest lockdown, we partnered with Fuel Bank Foundation to provide additional support in this area.
On 6th July, over 1,600 Big Issue vendors were able to return to their pitches and sell the magazine again.
As restrictions eased, vendors constantly asked when they could return to their pitches. It was fantastic when we were finally able to tell them that on the 6th July, they could sell the magazine again and begin to regain their independence post-lockdown.
“It fills us with pride and joy to announce that Big Issue vendors are back out selling as of today. Our vendors are passionate about getting back to earning their own income and being in control of their own finances and lives once again.” John Bird, Big Issue founder and editor-in-chief.
We wanted to ensure that this was a safe and successful return for Big Issue vendors.
We funded 10 free copies of the magazine for returning vendors to help them get back on their feet. To keep vendors and the public safe, we also funded personal protective equipment (PPE) for all vendors on an ongoing basis and have so far committed over £60,000 to buying PPE supplies.
Even before the pandemic, vendors were reporting that more and more potential customers were not carrying cash. We were already supporting vendors to offer cashless payments, the pandemic just sped up the timeline. We’ve worked even harder to support vendors to get ID, bank accounts, set up email addresses and ensure they are equipped with a card reader and a compatible phone.
So far, over 530 vendors now take card payments with more offering sales through a card machine every week. On average, a cashless vendor sells 30% more than a non-cashless vendor. We are working to empower more Big Issue vendors to take control of their finances.
Two national lockdowns have followed, during which we have continued to provide emotional and financial support to Big Issue vendors. Over the past year Big Issue vendors have been provided with over £1millon of support and this has only been possible because of you.
We will continue to provide support to vendors to make sure the lights stay on and there is food on the table.
We hope it won’t be long before Big Issue vendors can return to their pitches. When it is time, we will be there to enable a safe and successful return to selling for vendors across the UK.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I believe in the strength and resilience of Big Issue vendors and I know you do too.
Thank you for believing in Big Issue vendors.
You can support Big Issue vendors by making a donation today.