Listen: Laura Bennett chats to Chris Campbell from The Big Issue
When you get birthday videos from Hamish and Andy, Matt Moran, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, comedian Judith Lucy and a host of football heroes—you know you must be doing something right.
That was the birthday experience of The Big Issue, the street magazine that’s been changing the lives of homeless people in Australia for 20 years now.
Their birthday video, made as a gift to the magazine’s staff and street vendors, included not only greetings from a host of celebrities, but also from Big Issue sellers around the world. All have experienced homelessness, all sell the magazine on street corners wearing a yellow vest and a red cap, and all have found independence where once there was no hope.
NSW operations manager Chris Campbell said vendors become genuine business owners when they join The Big Issue fold, and it is a massive boost to their confidence.
“The guys buy the magazines for $3.50 and sell if for $7,” he explained. “It’s their business, it’s not given to them.”
“I think the courage to stand on a corner in a bright yellow vest, wearing a red hat, and saying, ‘I’m owning my own business, I’m making money’—just seeing how that changes their lives has been a great experience.
“You see people who were homeless no longer homeless, finding housing, moving into other jobs as their confidence and abilities grow. It just creates wonderful changes all around the world.”
“He Was Curled Up In A Little Ball… Couldn’t Even Look At Me”
Chris said one of the highlights of his time working for The Big Issue was the radical transformation he saw in a vendor who was initially so terrified of people that he curled up in the foetal position.
“We had a new vendor come in to our training and I was going to train him,” Chris recalled. “He came with a carer, he had some disabilities, and he was curled up in a little ball, couldn’t even look at me. I asked if we could have a trainee sit in on one of the training sessions, and he said ‘no’ and curled up even tighter and couldn’t even look at her.
“But within three days of being out selling [The Big Issue magazine] on the street, he was walking down the street with his chest puffed out, waving hello.”
The Big Issue Changing The Lives From Japan to Australia to Kenya
The Big Issue was founded in London in 1991, and has since spread to nine other countries worldwide including Japan, Korea, Ireland and South Africa. It came to Australia in 1996 and since then has given employment to 6500 members across the nation.
The organisation changes the lives of marginalised people who have landed on poverty and homelessness due to emotional, mental and physical disability, addictions and other setbacks.
“In 20 years we’ve sold 2.3 million magazines, and put 23 million dollars into the pockets of people who are homeless and experiencing disadvantage,” Chris said.
Now Making A Difference With Street Soccer Too
Not only does The Big Issue create employment through magazine sales, it also helps disadvantaged women through its subscription service, and runs a unique sports program called Street Soccer with weekly soccer training sessions for the homeless and disadvantaged. There are 18 soccer groups running, two in prisons.
“Street Soccer uses sport as a way to address a whole variety of issues including health, but also confidence, team work, the ability to look beyond yourself,” Chris explained.
“We have one soccer player here in Sydney, a very large fellow who runs fairly slowly—and I have never been to a soccer game where he hasn’t scored a goal.
“That’s not something where we’ve told the players “you need to create this”; they have created the opportunity for that person to achieve that. These are people who have experienced homelessness, who are living on the streets, and they have found that generosity of spirit through sport.”
To learn more, subscribe or support The Big Issue in other ways, see to the support page of their website.