In April, aAh! Magazine spoke to Brontë Schiltz, the Communications and Fundraising officer for Big Issue North, about how the magazine was supporting their vendors during the Coronavirus pandemic.
The vendors, who earn a living by selling copies of the magazine, are often affected by homelessness or poverty, and relied upon selling the magazine as a means of support. Big Issue North stepped in to provide for them over the last few months, but are now easing back to business as usual – as the government has begun to ease lockdown measures.
aAh! Magazine speaks to Schiltz about how The Big Issue North is preparing for life after lockdown.
The vendors will be returning to the streets just as non-essential businesses begin to re-open from Monday 15th June. Schiltz says this is significant because for a lot of the vendors, selling the magazine is their only source of income – a third are currently homeless, a quarter have no qualifications and over half have no previous work experience.
“Although we’ve been supporting vendors financially during lockdown thanks to incredibly generous donations to our hardship fund, we haven’t been able to provide as much as vendors earn, and our motto, ‘Working not begging’, is really important to our vendors,” Schiltz explains.
“Selling Big Issue North isn’t just a way of earning an income, it also gives vendors a meaningful use of their time that allows them to interact with others – sometimes the only regular opportunity they have to do so – and to improve their confidence and motivation.”
During lockdown, Big Issue North has been on sale at a number of supermarket chains across the north, including Sainsbury’s, McColl’s, Asda, Morrisons and Waitrose. Even while vendors are eased back into the routine of selling magazines, Big Issue North will remain available at these stores.
“Lots of our vendors, such as the third with an underlying health condition, the growing number over 60 and those who live with a loved one who is especially vulnerable, will not be able to return to work immediately,” Schiltz told aAh! Magazine.
“Keeping the magazine available in stores for a short while longer will therefore allow customers whose local vendor can’t yet return to work to continue to support the magazine.”
To keep them safe while out selling, the vendors will be provided with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – a visor, reusable face mask, gloves and hand sanitiser – and a contactless payment device.
While the PPE is a temporary measure introduced for the sake of health and safety, Schiltz tells aAh! Magazine that the contactless payment devices are to be a permanent feature.
“Each year, our vendors report making fewer and fewer sales as our society becomes increasingly cashless, so we think this will make an enormous difference to their ability to earn an income to support themselves.”
The need for PPE also provides supporters of The Big Issue with an opportunity to help out in their own way – anybody with a sewing machine or a 3D printer, and a knowledge of making visors or face masks, is encouraged to get in touch.
In addition to the creation of PPE, there are others option to help out, says Schiltz: “We’ve been working for the last six months with The Hope Revolution, who allow people to buy items needed by local charities, which are then sent directly to their headquarters, and they recently launched a PPE shop.”
“For as little as £2.50, donors can buy PPE to be sent directly to our offices. All they need to do is choose what they’d like to donate and choose Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds or Sheffield from the dropdown menu under ‘City’, and the items will be distributed to our offices.”
There is also the opportunity to buy a custom-made mask from Mancmade Clothing – a local company who are donating £1 from every sale to Big Issue’s Hardship Fund.
There are plenty of ways for members of the public to help with the transition back to face-to-face selling. The hardship fund – through which money goes towards supporting the vendors’ daily needs – is still running over at easydonate.org/HARDSHIP.
“There is also a new, fun way for people to support our work,” Schiltz tells aAh! Magazine.
“Our fellow street paper Shedia, based in Greece, had the ingenious idea of cutting down on waste and loss of earnings by making paper products, such as jewellery and homeware, from unsold copies of the magazine, some of which they kindly donated to us, and which you can buy online.”
“We’re now launching our own range, but we need help to make the products. Anyone who feels like getting crafty can download the online guide. If they need any print issues to work with, they can email us their home address and how many they’d like to email@example.com and we’ll get them sent out. Finished items can be returned to Big Issue North, 463 Stretford Road, Manchester, M16 9AB.”
Schiltz also urges those who may be short of time or money to get involved, by nominating the Big Issue North Trust (registered charity number, 1056041) for the 2020 Sheffield Mutual Charity Award.
To nominate Big Issue North Trust, visit savings.sheffieldmutual.com/charityaward20.
Contact the team on firstname.lastname@example.org
Make a donation to The Big Issue Hardship Fund: easydonate.org/HARDSHIP.