The Big Issue releases impact report & announces launch of Big Issue TV

Yesterday, The Big Issue (TBI) marked the milestone of more than £1 million of support given to struggling vendors in lockdown.

The Big Issue releases impact report & announces launch of Big Issue TV
Paul Cheal: “Our plan is to continue to innovate at pace.”

TBI has supported some 2,110 vendors with £1,062,000 since the beginning of the pandemic.

To mark the significant milestone, 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’.

The report details how, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, TBI accelerated its subscription business, established a nationwide retail presence, overhauled its digital content offering and engaged with both funders and the public to generate payments for vendors unable to sell on the streets.

TBI also supplied laptops to help vendors take online training courses, plus white goods like washing machines and freezers, and baby essentials for vendors with infants.

Vendors have been supported emotionally too, with TBI’s frontline team staying in touch in lockdown to check on their wellbeing.

In the darkest days of last March we were unsure about the future, and about how we could help our vendors. And, now here we are.

Paul Cheal

Some other key highlights from the report include:

  • From a small number of subscriptions, TBI grew its subscriptions base to 10,000 in just 30 days
  • At present, the subs part of the business continues to grow. A key part of this is an online space that allows sales and proceeds from subscriptions to be directed to specific vendors. By the end of 2020, 500 vendors across the UK had signed up to be included on this and that number continues to grow.
  • Within weeks, the magazine was listed in major retailers such as Sainsbury’s, Coop, MacColls, Asda, Waitrose and others for the first time ever
  • TBI built an app version of The Big Issue designed to engage with a new, digital first audience
  • TBI reframed their digital editorial goals, focusing on becoming first for subjects including social justice and homelessness. December 2020 was the website’s busiest month ever with over 400,000 page views and 300,000 monthly unique users
  • With help from National Lottery funding, TBI has been able create new products such as a vendor app, to improve digital inclusion for vendors who are frequently amongst the most digitally excluded in Britain
  • TBI’s frontline staff made more than 2,000 support phone calls to vendors during periods of lockdown in 2020, 45% of those calls focusing on financial support.
  • To date, through the pandemic, The Big Issue has distributed well over £1 million to vendors across the UK. It went out as cash, supermarket vouchers and other support payments towards rent, utility bills and family support costs.
  • TBI equipped all 2,745 new and returning vendors with a Comeback kit – a bag with essential PPE, masks, hand sanitiser, wipes. A total of £142,455 was spent on PPE.
  • Over 25 per cent of the selling workforce were supplied with card readers and a further 25 per cent have the necessary pre-requisites to ‘go cashless’
  • Big Issue Invest (the social investment arm of The Big Issue Group) was part of the consortium of grant makers of The National Lottery Community Fund’s Social Enterprise Support Fund. This fund was focused on delivering financial support to social enterprises at sharp end of Covid19’s financial impact. Big Issue Invest alone awarded 118 grants amounting to £3.2 million. Having invested in over 160 social enterprises and charities across the UK, Big Issue Invest also supported its investees to continue delivering impact in their communities and continues to support new clients
  • The Big Issue created a new campaign, the Ride Out Recession Alliance, to keep people in their jobs and homes

Now in its latest move, TBI has launched a SVOD channel. The organisation is capitalising on the fast growing SVOD market which is seeing a huge uptick in consumers wanting to subscribe directly to premium content, that appeals to their interests and resonates with their outlook. TBI TV will showcase documentary films that are challenging, provocative and vital viewing, say the publishers.

All the films have been hand-picked by TBI’s editorial team from one of Europe’s largest libraries of premium programming and are ready to stream when and where viewers want, with hours of new content added on a monthly basis, for a cost of £3.99 per month.

Paul Cheal, Group CEO of The Big Issue Group, said: “This is a significant moment. In the darkest days of last March we were unsure about the future, and about how we could help our vendors. And, now here we are.

“I'm pleased to say that I work with a team that has excelled in dealing with the impact of Covid-19 on Big Issue 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.”

He added: “Our plan is to continue to innovate at pace. 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’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.”

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