THE BIG ISSUE
As we weather a second lockdown, spare a thought for those more exposed to the effects of the pandemic. We've partnered with The Big Issue in the past, but this year – and especially into the winter – vendors have been hit hard by lockdowns in the cities we share.
Founded in 1995, The Big Issue Foundation is an independently funded registered charity working exclusively with Big Issues vendors, connecting them to the vital support they need to enable them to rebuild their lives and determine their own pathways to a better future.
In the spring, we ran a promotion in which we pledged to donate one jacket for every jacket sold. This October, we distributed 350 jackets to The Big Issue to be provided to vendors across the UK, including London, Manchester and Glasgow – cities that Belstaff calls home.
We teamed with Big Issue vendor and photographer Carlos Gonzalez Perez to photograph just a few of London's 350-strong vendors to see just one way the Foundation has been working to support its vendors this winter.
Carlos Gonzalez Perez was born in Spain but knew from a young age that there was more he had to see. He considers London home – as much as a self-confessed urban nomad could consider anywhere to be home. This adventurous spirit led him to meet people from all walks of life, and also led him to photography, which has seen him exhibit all over the world.
With an eye for the unusual and an encyclopaedic knowledge of London's side streets and short cuts, Carlos uncovers not only the spirit of the city but the spirit of his fellow vendors – he's not just a globally commissioned and exhibited photographer, but a Big Issue vendor too. The flexibility of the work appeals to his free spirit.
Our first stop is with Will on his pitch outside Budgens, not far from Highbury & Islington station. Turning 61 the week after we see him, Will has been working this pitch for 11 years, and greets several passers-by by name. Big issue Service Broker Kevin Feazey tells us it is big personalities like Will's that help Big Issue vendors to be seen – a remarkable thing to say, given vendors' distinctive red tabards.
The Big Issue offers volunteers the chance to work their own pitch for a day. One piece of feedback they receive from members of the public trying on the tabard for a day is just how invisible they then feel. If you've ever worked in retail and been ignores, imagine that multiplied – many passers-by will simply go out of their way to avoid acknowledgement, let alone interaction. Wouldn't you rather be engaged with and politely turned down than simply ignored time after time?
But it's not just that. Kevin also reveals that The Big Issue will regularly receive complaints from individuals complaining that vendors have their own smartphones – not fitting the stereotype, to generalise – when actually this is something that the social change organisation works to provide to vendors so that they might have a way to stay in touch with loved ones.
Later we meet Sharon on the iconic London Bridge. When we arrive, Sharon's not wearing her new jacket – she pulls the down-filled puffa jacket out of a backpack to wear for the impending photo opportunity. It's perfect for a day like today – low single digits – in an exposed pitch. Kevin explains that many of the vendors are nervous of appearing too well-off, as it will negatively impact their ability to sell – how can they be in need if they're wearing a good coat?
Although we don't celebrate Thanksgiving at home in the UK like our Transatlantic neighbours and friends, the practice – simply being mindful of the things we're grateful for – is one that likely could be more widely observed, especially in light of accounts like these. We all know that things are not always as they seem. If a smartphone or a warm coat were the only criteria, what hope do we have for real compassion?
With your help, this winter we're giving back. Over the weekend following Thanksgiving – from the 27th to the 30th of November, when Black Friday traditionally dominates retail – we'll donate 10% of every full price sale to three worthy causes in our home cities around the world. And what do those donations mean?
£11 Could pay for an hour's one-to-one Service Brokerage support to help Big Issue vendors access housing, finance, health and well-being.
£25 Could pay for study materials for a training course to retain for a new career.
£75 Could provide a vendor with a new smartphone to stay connected to a love one.
£78 Could provide a passport for a vendor to use as ID to open a bank account.
£90 Could pay for a days' Service Brokerage support to help Big Issue vendors access housing, finance, health and well-being.
£100 Could pay for a training course (e.g. CSCS Green Labourer Course) to train a Big Issue vendor for a life, or a starter pack for a new home.
This year – just like last – giving back is giving thanks.