Big Issue editor Paul McNamee: on to the next 200 million!

Today, The Big Issue marks 200 million copies sold in the UK since the street paper launched in 1991. Big Issue editor Paul McNamee says that vendors are at the heart of the celebration.

Big Issue vendor Andre Rostant. Photo: Tom Palmer

By Paul McNamee, editor of The Big Issue 

The Conservative government is making bold claims about moving the country out of penury.

There are lingering fears about mishandling of the manufacturing industry.

The PM is pledging to gun for British rights in the EU and Manchester United are a once mighty footballing force fighting to get back to the big time. William Roache has been playing Ken Barlow in Coronation Street forever.

Against this backdrop, there is a growing homelessness crisis. Rough sleeping is on the up and nobody sees any clear way to fight it. It feels very familiar. It’s Britain in 1991.

Into this world, angry and ready to make a change, came The Big Issue. John Bird and Gordon Roddick had had enough and wanted to find a way to allow those with nothing, on the margins and on the streets, a means to work their way back into society.

Almost 25 years later that idea has not solved all the problems but it has changed lives and ideas fundamentally and forever. We’ve sold 200 million copies in Britain. That is a lot of magazines, a lot of ink.

That we continue to be needed is a mixed blessing. It allows us to keep producing a magazine that people want (our sales were UP last year). But it also means more people need us, which means society still has work to do. It’s a kind of Nanny McPhee deal.

Over the years The Big Issue has frequently led the way. Who thought of shifting periodicals on the street 25 years ago? Now, what smart operator doesn’t?

Who else would move from Damien Hirst to David Cameron for guest edits?

At the heart, at the very core of The Big Issue DNA, are our vendors. They are the reason The Big Issue exists and without them we wouldn’t shift a single copy. The awards are welcome, the sales figures I greet with a smile but really the 200 million celebration is the vendors’ celebration.

And right at the centre of this very special edition (thanks to Ben Eine for his time and selflessness with the cover) we celebrate the successes of our vendors. We salute every single one of them who have been with us through the years, those who have moved on to build incredible lives for themselves, amongst them those who now work to help pull the new generation out of the mire.

And also to those who are still out there every day, vital parts of their communities, working hard, taking the hand up not the handout. So long as they need us, we will be there.

To the next 200 million. Onwards, onwards we move.