The Big Issue Will Deliver Magazines To Your Door So You Can Help During Quarantine

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The Big Issue Will Deliver Magazines To Your Door So You Can Help During QuarantineThe Big Issue/Instagram

More than eight weeks ago, Paul McNamee and his team at The Big Issue had to make a difficult choice: fold or reinvent their entire business model.

The current public health crisis meant all of the magazine’s vendors had to be taken off the streets even before the government-imposed lockdown, effectively putting an end to business as they knew it.


With approximately 1,500 vendors now out of work for the foreseeable future, the team knew they had to do something drastic to turn the situation around. So that’s exactly what they did.

the big issuePA Images

Paul McNamee, the editor of The Big Issue – a magazine that offers homeless people, or those at risk of homelessness, the opportunity to earn a legitimate income – told UNILAD the team decided there and then to change their business model.

With a lot of the magazine’s vendors having underlying health problems, it was necessary to protect them above anything else. ‘We knew immediately we had to act to stop them selling the magazines on the streets – it just wasn’t safe,’ Paul said.


In ‘one fell swoop’, thousands of people who relied on the magazine to make a living now had nowhere to turn, with Paul saying they ‘very, very quickly’ had to make ‘very tough decisions’.

‘So you think, right, what do you do here when you’re hit with a crisis like that?’, he said. ‘Do you fold or do you stand up? And so we stood up and we thought, right, here’s what we’re going to do.’

The first thing the team did was build a subscription, something they’d never done before because all of their sales – more than 70,000 magazines a week – typically come through their vendors.


Paul told UNILAD:

The Big Issue traditionally is a hand-up, not a hand-out. We offer people who are right on the edges of society a means to make a living. They buy the magazine, they sell it on. We realised that until this is over, we had to be a hand-out.

Starting with a three-month subscription offer, in which a magazine will be sent to your door each week, the team then created an ‘increasingly successful’ app, before going on to launch a podcast, The Big Miss You. The magazine can also now be found in a range of shops.

Paul McNamee The Big IssueSupplied

In effect, the magazine went from a successful commercial paper sale – ‘really the only paper sale on the street because there were so many others that were free’ – to a subscription model in a short matter of weeks. Eight, to be precise.

Not only that, but the team has managed to do all of this with a reduced staff. ‘If we’d have sat down 10 weeks ago and someone had said, “Right, by the middle of May you’ll have done these things”, we’d have gone “No way, you’re out of your mind”,’ Paul said. ‘And yet here we are.’

And while this will certainly go a long way in helping those employed by The Big Issue, with the vendors being provided with financial support during quarantine, Paul says the most important thing is making sure they have someone to talk to.


He explained:

I think loneliness is a big aspect for them because such a key part of selling the magazine is interaction. Financially it’s vital – they make a living, they make money – but also there’s the social interaction and there’s a relationship between vendor and customer.

That can be quite a long, burning, sophisticated, deep friendship that grows over time. And when that stops, for people that have health problems and who have perhaps struggled with mental health issues, when that stops that’s a big, big thing to overcome.

So while a lot of the work for the frontline Big Issue staff has been making sure vendors have money, or supermarket vouchers, or whatever it may be, they also just need someone to talk to. So we’ve had to be able to provide that.

As a result, the team look to provide their vendors with whatever it is they may need at that time – whether that’s some company, money, or even exercise equipment. ‘They get in touch with us [and] we just provide them with the assistance they require,’ Paul said.

One example of this is what the team did to help one woman, who had started selling The Big Issue after suffering an industrial accident that damaged her spine and prevented her from doing her previous job.

She was really struggling with lockdown and the inability to exercise regularly. As Paul said, she felt like she was ‘just becoming sedentary’ and her back problems were just getting worse.

So what did they do? They delivered a rowing machine straight to her apartment. ‘She used to row… it’s changing her life in lockdown,’ Paul said. ‘It’s not just a matter of saying, here’s some money, off you go. We’re trying to make sure that we’re providing where there is need.’

You might be reading this and thinking, but what can I do to help? And the answer is simple, really. First of all, head to the magazine’s website and follow the instructions to subscribe. If you do that, you’ll have The Big Issue delivered straight to your door.

If you’d rather not have a physical copy, you can subscribe to the app – available on Apple Store and Google Play – and receive a digital copy of the magazine each week instead.

Alternatively, the magazine is now available to buy in a host of supermarkets and other shops, including Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Morrisons, Asda, and McColl’s.

‘I know it’s hard,’ Paul said. ‘I know when people go into shops now… they don’t want to spend too long, but if I could ask them that they just take a look and pick up The Big Issue.’

Lastly, if you want to make a one-off donation, there’s the possibility to do this too. ‘All of this money goes into a pot, a fund, and we then hand it out to as many vendors as we can get to,’ Paul said.

If you do decide to help out in any way, Paul wants you to know it won’t go unnoticed:

I want to thank people, because in that moment eight weeks ago, when we decided to stop the press… when that hit, you go cold and you think, ‘How are we going to get through this? We produce product every week, what do we do?’

And the response from the British public and beyond has been remarkable, it’s been so emotional at times when I see people tweeting about getting their subscription copy of The Big Issue, or how they are delighted that they are able to give money that we can then give to vendors.

The goodwill that The Big Issue has clearly built up over 29 years is flooding through, and I just don’t know how to thank people enough. I find myself getting emotional thinking about it and I just want to pass that on, that so many people have done so much. I know I’m continuously asking for more, because sadly we do just keep needing more. But thank you to everybody, you’ve just been fucking remarkable.

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If you’re looking for something to do where you get a nice thing in return, may I recommend getting a subscription to @bigissueuk ? “Yes, you can Aisling” ”Thank you” Obviously most of their vendors have not been able to work & still need support. You can get a a month, 3 months, a year. Try it out, but it is a wonderful way to support homelessness & their journalists & articles are wonderful & cover so many things. It’s good, ethical & responsible journalism. And you may not know it but their ONLINE SHOP @thebigissueshop is STILL selling with minor postal delays. It sells ECO THINGS! Homeware, dog leads, tee shirts, gifts & art & coffee. SO MANY COOL THINGS! All supporting people effected by homelessness. Products like @_thesoapco are on there which have amazing products – all made in Britain by people who often have been left out of the workplace owing to troubles or disability. This week’s Big Issue has my brilliant friend @kiri_pritchard_mclean as one if its cover stars – she set up The Covid Arms comedy gig which i did a couple of weeks ago. It is SO much fun for acts and viewers alike & has managed to maintain the sort of madness of a live gig. It’s Saturdays, live & £2 to watch or a £10 for a “front row” seat where you might get spoken to & the money goes to the @trusselltrust food bank & supporting out of work comedians who need it. Also big shout out to our comedian song bird @gracepetriemusic and the work she is doing. #aislingrecommendsecoorsociallyconsciousbrandseverydayuntilxmas #ahandupnotahandout🤝

A post shared by Aisling Bea (@weemissbea) on

Paul doesn’t know what the future holds for the magazine, only that this whole experience will change their ‘means of existence, means of trading, [and] means of being the organisation that [they] are’.

‘Exactly how, it’s impossible to say,’ the editor said. Despite the uncertainty, hopefully our support can help them keep doing what they do best; helping those who need it the most.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, vendors aren’t able to sell on the streets. You can support The Big Issue by downloading the app – available on Apple Store and Google Play – subscribing online or buying the magazine from leading retailers, with half of proceeds going directly to vendors.

Topics: Featured, Business, Homelessness, lockdown

Lucy Connolly

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