Estimated reading time:7 minutes, 38 seconds
Everyone has a story. Islington’s connection with the Big Issue goes back years. Right now there are two Big Issue offices in Finsbury Park. London Regional Manager Chris Stuchbery, who works at 222 Seven Sisters Road, talks about his job and explains why we all need to buy a Big Issue magazine every week. Interview by Nicola Baird. Photos by Kimi Gill
“The Big Issue is an award-winning magazine, costing £2.50 [except at Christmas when it is £3]. A lot of people don’t realise the vendors (the ones in the red jackets) have to buy the magazine from us for £1.25. So every magazine sold gives the vendor £1.25. We sell 14,000 magazines a week in London (83,000 across the UK), but in a city of 8 million it would be nice to sell a few more,” says Chris Stuchbery at the smaller of Big Issue’s two Finsbury Park offices (the other’s on Fonthill Road). Despite being the main distribution hub in London, Big Issue vendors don’t need to come to the Finsbury Park office as Big Issue has five distribution points in the West End at Liverpool Street, Oxford Circus, Victoria, Covent Garden and Waterloo.
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There’s something so positive about Chris’s work – his job is to provide London’s 350 Big Issue vendors with their magazines – that I just want to buy the latest Big Issue, forgetting that I really should be doing this once a week anyway. That’s because: “Every magazine sold by a vendor is putting money into their pockets. If more people bought the magazine, the Big Issue Group [which includes the distribution company, the charitable foundation and a social investment arm] would be able to offer support to more people, and reinvest profits more schemes designed to tackle poverty and create opportunity,” explains Chris.
And that would help everyone…
The Big Issue was founded by John Bird, MBE, in September 1991 – its last office was in Vauxhall (now a Foxton’s estate agent) until they moved to Finsbury Park in 2015. John, now Lord Bird, is 71 and using his move to the House of Lords as a way of keeping up his anti-poverty work to give people “a hand up not a hand out”.
At The Big Issue this is done by helping people who are excluded from mainstream society, financially impoverished and disadvantaged to get back on their feet. One of the first steps in that journey is to run their own business selling copies of the Big Issue magazine.
How does Big Issue work?
“Lots of people think that we give out magazines. We don’t! Vendors have to pay for their magazines and manage their pitch – it gives them a structure and develops a readiness for work. To sell successfully you need to be a proper sales person, reliable and able to engage with people.”
“You’ve got to have a personality to sell The Big Issue,” adds Chris picking up that week’s most recent Big Issue with an Islington vendor on the cover – William, whose pitch is outside Budgens, 213-215 Upper Street – in front of the Palace of Westminster.
Chris’s advice is for anyone wanting to support people like William then buy the magazine, but to have a chat too. “It’s nice to see a seller and say that you like the magazine.”
- Places Chris Stuchbery likes in Islington
Our office is Finsbury Park. I don’t like the pollution but apart from that it’s an interesting and diverse area with lots of different people.
- We used to have distribution in Angel, but we closed it. But I like Upper Street – the shops and the history.
- I like thinking about the history of the old cinema (now the UKCG church) where the Rolling Stones played. Read more about gigs at the Astoria HERE.
- I support Plymouth Argyll so like football and being near Arsenal. But my Dad is a Tottenham supporter.
- Lunch is more often than not a sandwich from home or a tin of soup but I like to spend £5 a week locally and go to all sorts of places – the Fonthill Café, Greggs, Tesco, Pret a Manger (new at Finsbury Park’s Station Place) and a couple of places on Blackstock Road that do stews, as well as the famous Eden’s chicken shop.
- I get my hair cut next door to the office (see photo).
- We use local businesses at this office – the local hardware shop (see interview HERE) and we buy our paper and laminates to make the badges from Fish & Cook on Blackstock Road.
Chris, 42, who has a degree in Social Policy & Admin plus a Masters in Social Research Methods, has worked at Big Issue for nearly eight years, so he’s had to deal with all sorts of tricky situations. “Bad things don’t happen very often, and it’s only usually because someone’s clearly ill. It’s very hard to get people to engage and get any help unless they are at crisis point so for difficult, dangerous and disturbing behaviour we ultimately rely on the police.”
For a time he was James Bowen’s outreach worker – Islington’s most famous Big Issue seller – and possibly London’s too. James was interviewed by Islington Tribune’s Peter Gruner in September 2010, (see interview HERE) busking with his lovely ginger cat, Bob, at Angel tube. The story led to a book deal to write his own life story, which was then turned into a film, A Street Cat Named Bob, last year (2016) starring Luke Treadaway.
Most Big Issue sellers are men. “There is a lot of bullying on the street and members of the public do take their frustrations out on the homeless. Every day a Big Issue seller will have someone hiss at them ‘get a job’,” says Chris.
Just in case it’s not clear – selling the Big Issue is a job.
“The film of A Street Cat Named Bob was a romanticised version of getting off drugs,” adds Chris, “but alcohol is always more of a problem than drugs. Alcohol brings chaos, you can lose people for weeks. We’ve got a difficult balancing act at Big Issue. We offer a basic structure but we’re not overbearing because we’re not teachers and they’re adults. It’s got to be a balance, we help by offering opportunities.” That’s why Big Issue doesn’t offer services, instead they “signpost” what’s available. It’s not just addictions that cause people to end up on the street, poor mental health can be a huge factor, so Chris is impressed by the fact that “Islington has early intervention for mental health – but you’ve got be an Islington resident. It’s also good for getting people off gambling.”
Despite the offices being located in Finsbury Park the main Big Issue vendor sites are in the West End – but there are regular Big Issue seller sites around Islington including Highbury Corner’s Budgens; and Waitrose and Oxfam at Angel. For anyone who loves words then paying for a mag is the simplest way to support the Big Issue. We’ve known that for years, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded by people like Chris just how many people benefit from the Big Issue concept.
- Help people find their feet again by buying the Big Issue magazine each week from an official vendor. Every magazine bought puts money in the vendor’s pocket. And if you buy the magazine, make sure you take it and read it!
- Follow on twitter @bigissue
- Enjoy more of Kimi Gill’s photos at her website here.
Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com.