Name: Paul Cheal, Group Chief Executive at The Big Issue Group
What’s going on at The Big Issue right now?
Until lockdown, The Big Issue’s publishing operations were largely built on a straightforward plan: equip our vendors with an award-winning magazine that created income generation opportunities for them and a sustainable, predominantly street-based circulation business for us.
In the immediate hours following March’s first lockdown we faced the biggest crisis in our history. All earning potential was stripped from the 1,700 regular vendors who made their living selling The Big Issue, whilst 75% of The Big Issue’s own revenue base disappeared overnight.
As a team, The Big Issue has excelled in dealing with the impact of Covid-19 on vendors. The magazine is now available via an app, subscriptions and retail, allowing us to generate new revenue streams to support the company and create a fund for vendors. And – when not in lockdown – we’ve equipped vendors with not only PPE but also card readers for safe, cashless sales.
Now, as we find ourselves in the third lockdown, we are fully engaged in diversifying our sustainable revenues to continue to deliver social change, serving both our vendors and our readers.
Our plan is to continue to innovate at pace. We’ve doubled our site traffic within three months, with plenty more to come. You can now buy a subscription from your local vendor direct from our site. We have launched TBI TV and we will soon reveal a new app to help vendors gain digital skills and plan their finances.
We’ve partnered with the World’s largest professional network, LinkedIn, to launch a pilot scheme, looking at innovative ways to empower vendors to keep in touch with their customers in lockdown. Vendors taking part in the new scheme called Raising Profiles will now be able to reach out to new and existing customers on LinkedIn to let them know that they can purchase a copy of The Big Issue digitally.
We recently marked the milestone of supporting over 2,000 struggling vendors in lockdown with more than £1 million. We distributed these funds – as cash or vouchers or other support needed. To mark the significant moment, TBI has published an impact report, documenting the seismic shift the organisation has undergone in the past 12 months: ‘The Big Issue: Surviving Covid and Beyond’.
We’re now looking to work for those people who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs due to Covid and who face the catastrophe of homelessness. We’ve created the Ride Out Recession Alliance (RORA), to keep them in their jobs and homes. And we’re going to spend a lot of time looking at how to help with their work and training. We’re also readying roll-out of Ebike schemes across Britain, schemes that involve work and training for former vendors.
Which magazines are helping to distract you / your family right now:
In a parallel universe you will find me scouring the country for vintage furniture and vinyl obscurities. The closest real life proxies are Reclaim and Uncut magazines.
Share a useful lockdown tip:
Treasure your network. The Big Issue could not have moved half as quickly if it hadn’t been for the likes of Jonny Kaldor and the Pugpig team, who got an app built for us in double quick time; or Adrian Hughes’ team at Marketforce that got us into retail overnight; and countless others who’ve helped to shape and provide feedback on our fundraising, digital and subscriptions initiatives.