You are the champions

Vendor Champions help make it easier for people to sell Big Issue North – whether that’s supporting them on their pitches, raising awareness of what they do or helping with fundraising

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As we often remind people, selling Big Issue North is a job – vendors buy magazines from our offices and sell them on for double the cost, relying on their business skills to generate an income. But it is also so much more than that. In an increasingly busy world, our vendors are at the beating heart of their local communities, breaking up the rush of the day to day with a friendly smile and a warm word for their customers. For many of our vendors, this opportunity for social interaction is as important to them as earning an income.

“I support Big Issue North because what they do to help people get back into work and education is remarkable.”

That’s why we need you to help make your local community a great place for vendors to work by becoming a Vendor Champion – a new voluntary role focused on providing the practical and emotional support our vendors need to get the most out of selling Big Issue North. This is a flexible role designed to enable people to put any skills they have to good use.

Alternative singer-songwriter Karima Francis, from Blackpool, became one of our first Vendor Champions back in June, when she helped to take our annual touring music festival, the Big Busk, online as the Big Busk at Home, bringing fellow musicians into the line-up and promoting the event across her social media channels.

“It was at the start of the lockdown when Big Issue North had written a piece on my single release, Shelf Life,” she said. “I got talking with Antonia [Charlesworth, deputy editor of Big Issue North] about the vendors at the start of the lockdown and was heartbroken to hear how much vendors were suffering due to Covid-19, so I offered my help to raise money for PPE packages and card payment machines so vendors could go back to work in a safe environment. I will always support Big Issue North as I believe what they do to help people get back into work and education is just remarkable.”

You don’t have to have Francis’s influence to become a Vendor Champion, though. Elsa Parker, Co-op community and membership specialist, has been a long-term friend to Dave, whose pitch is outside the Manchester Victoria Co-Op branch. From keeping an eye out to ensure he’s okay to looking after his belongings when he has to leave his pitch and giving him a gift bundle every Christmas, Elsa and her colleagues provide a shining example of a truly vendor-friendly pitch.

If you run a local business, you may also be able to support local vendors even if you don’t have a pitch outside your shop – and even if you don’t have a physical shop at all. When England went into lockdown back in March, we were left with thousands of magazines that could not be sold by our vendors. Inspired by our friends at Shedia, a fellow street paper in Greece, we put out a call for volunteers to use them to craft jewellery and homeware items to sell on our shop, supporting our vendors while they were unable to sell as well as reducing wastage.

Alison Connery, owner of Urmston recycled jewellery business Beaglebum Jewellery, produced a stunning batch of pendants that sold out within days. In York, John McGall, a long-standing friend of our vendors and owner of eco-friendly business I Am Reusable, donated a tenth of the proceeds from the sale of a new line of canvas satchels to our Covid-19 vendor hardship fund, providing financial support to our vendors while they were unable to work. Small Manchester business MancMade Clothing also donated £1 to the fund for every face mask it sold, as well as donating a bundle of masks for our vendors.

Throughout the year, we have also been overwhelmed by the amount of people who came forward to put their creative skills to good use to make a difference to the people who sell Big Issue North. In Stoke-on-Trent – home to our southernmost pitch! – Jon Barker, his son James and a group of friends worked quickly and tirelessly to use their 3D printing skills to provide a visor for every single vendor returning to work after the first national lockdown was lifted back in June. Then, during the second national lockdown, design technology (DT), art and photography teacher Rochelle Charlton-Lainé organised DT teachers across the country in a herculean mask-making mission for our vendors, getting their students involved. Thanks to their efforts, our vendors and their customers have been kept safe.

With the cold weather upon us, two knitting groups, the UK Hand Knitting Association and Blackpool’s Aunty Social, have also organised drives to provide handmade hats, scarves and gloves for vendors. Our 2019 vendor audit found that almost a third of vendors sell six or seven days a week for up to 12 hours a day. As the days grow colder, these kind-hearted knitters have made a real difference to our vendors this festive season.

“We were amazed by how many hats we received last year,” said Annabelle Hill, head of the UK Hand Knitting Association’s promotions team. “This year, donations from knitters and crocheters are even more important. As a result of the pandemic more people may find themselves in dire straits.”

City Year, a collective of 18 to 25-year-olds dedicated to tackling inequality, also collected donations of winter woollies, alongside some tasty snacks, to get our Manchester vendors through the months ahead.

These are just a few examples taken from the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who contribute their time, skills and enthusiasm to helping our vendors to change their lives – a goal that, after such an incredibly difficult year, is more important than ever. Whatever you can offer, we would love to have you as part of this exciting new team.

Here are a few more ideas for ways that you could get involved:

  • Identifying great places for vendors to sell in your local area
  • Encouraging local businesses to do their bit – whether that’s offering vendors a pitch, use of their toilet facilities, storage for their items when they have to leave their pitch, or the provision of items such as vouchers to exchange for goods in-store
  • Promoting our work in your local community by sharing our posts to local Facebook groups, organising fundraisers or any other way you can think of to raise awareness of what we do
  • Sharing skills to help our vendors to develop, such as offering English language or IT lessons
  • Helping more people to start selling Big Issue North and change their lives by working with local outreach teams to distribute information leaflets about how they can work with us or signposting users of another local service to us

To express an interest and make your community a great place to be a Big Issue North vendor, please email Simon Kweeday at We look forward to welcoming you aboard!

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