LONDON, June 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Homeless vendors of Britain’s Big Issue are being equipped with face masks, rubber gloves and contactless payment terminals as the magazine prepares to return to the streets following the easing of lockdown measures.
Sold by the homeless and other vulnerable people, the Big Issue was forced to halt street trade in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, switching to online and store sales for the first time in its three-decade history.
The Big Issue is one of Britain’s best-known social enterprises and has inspired dozens of similar publications globally.
Along with some 100 fellow street papers in 35 countries, which rely on face-to-face interaction, the magazine has been forced to adapt its business model to survive the crisis.
Personal protective equipment including face masks, plastic visors and rubber gloves will be provided to up to 2,000 vendors to allow them to sell to customers directly in England, Scotland and Wales from July 6.
Some Big Issue vendors started accepting contactless payments last year, but the technology will be rolled out to all sellers to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.
“Our vendors are passionate about getting back to earning their own income and being in control of their own finances and lives once again,” John Bird, Big Issue founder and editor-in-chief, said in a statement.
The magazine, which has sold 200 million copies since its launch in 1991, also started a public appeal for donations to keep it afloat during the lockdown.
While many street paper vendors have reported lower sales due to coronavirus curbs, some publishers have branched out and started selling new products, said the International Network of Street Papers (INSP), a Glasgow-based charity.
In Seoul, vendors of Big Issue Korea have started selling items including mobile phone accessories, while Seattle-based Real Change has developed hand sanitiser for its vendors to sell.
Many global street papers used contactless payments before the pandemic, but the virus has accelerated the switch. Others are finding new ways to adapt to social distancing, such as using stalls, according to the INSP.
Worldwide, more than 20,000 vendors earn an income by selling street papers each year, earning nearly $30 million in total every year, the charity said. ($1 = 0.8112 pounds) (Reporting by Sarah Shearman @Shearmans. Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org)