Time served

For some of our longest-serving vendors, selling the magazine
is an essential way of life.

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In the past, we put a time limit on how long someone could work as a vendor.

We soon found that forcing people who were not ready to move on meant that they would find themselves struggling again. If they cannot start mainstream employment, they lose the stability of the income that selling the magazine provides.

Our latest vendor audit showed that of the 74% of vendors who have now been selling Big Issue North for more than two years, 53% have been selling for five years or longer.

Terry, a vendor based in Sheffield, is one of our longest-serving vendors. “I’ve been doing it for thirty years next January, with about four years off when I was doing some decorating,” he explains. “I used to sell Sheffield Star, Evening Post, and Evening Press in York. Couldn’t work in an office, me. I like to be outside serving people. Weather doesn’t bother me.”

Our long-term vendors, like Terry, can be met with criticism. Steadfastness is interpreted as laziness, or a “failure” to move on. Similarly, it can raise questions about the effectiveness of Big Issue North’s work – isn’t it meant to be a “stepping-stone” for people towards bigger, better things?

Unlike other workplaces, where long service is rewarded as loyalty, a Big Issue North vendor’s commitment can cause concern. However, forcing someone to stop selling the magazine with a time limit defeated the purpose and overall aim to help people change their lives for the better.

Forcing someone to stop selling the magazine after a set time defeats our purpose and our overall aim to help people change their lives for the better.

We do not need people to move on. It is a common misconception that we have a limited number of vendor vacancies or pitches for people to sell from, or that longer-serving vendors are taking opportunities to become a vendor away from other people.

We have more pitches than we have vendors. In addition, the money that vendors spend on magazines is reinvested into the services we can provide for them. This means that nobody ever misses accessing our support or the opportunity to become a vendor.

Whilst Big Issue North is there for anyone who needs us or anyone who wants to earn money, the reality is that most people start selling the magazine because they have no alternatives. Many of our vendors have had challenging, difficult pasts or experiences that continually impact their chance to gain mainstream employment. Several have struggled with mental illness or substance abuse or have criminal records or limited education.

Part of what Big Issue North does is help vendors identify these barriers, and although we support our vendors (directly and through referrals), there are not always straightforward or quick solutions.

“My main problem is that I cannot read and write,” says Mohammed, a vendor based in Crosspool, Sheffield. “I have been looking for a job for a long time. I’m 55 now. I cannot get another job…

“21 years is how long I have been selling for. I have seen many changes in that time, in Sheffield and in Big Issue North. I work very hard and I am still a good seller of magazines. I should get a pension from Big Issue North for all this time!”

Whilst anyone can become a vendor, selling the magazine is not an easy way to make a living. There is no such thing as a “typical” week’s income or, as Mohammed points out, a pension scheme. Earnings vary depending on all sorts of things, from the weather to the time of year or how many people pass by their pitch. What it does offer, though, is a chance to earn money while accessing support and structure, and a chance at social interaction.

There is no time limit on progress or statute on making changes. For some, selling the magazine is often a starting point. For others, it is an essential way of life.

To donate to help us support current and future vendors to turn their lives around, just text BINORTH to 70970 to give £5, or go to www.justgiving.com/bigissuenorth. Thank you for your ongoing support.

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