INSP at 25: Past, present and future of the street paper network onstage at #INSP2019

INSP brought together the past, present and future of the street paper network for a conversation about its history and what’s to come on the first day of the 2019 Global Street Paper Summit in Hannover.

Co-founder, first ever chair, and later honorary president, of INSP, and founder of the Homeless World Cuo (a baby of INSP), Mel Young, was joined by the organisation’s current chair Fay Selvan, who is also CEO of The Big Life Group and Big Issue North.

Facilitated by Hannele Huhtala, editor-in-chief of Finnish street paper Iso Numero, the pair spoke about INSP’s establishment, history, successes and failures, the major obstacles that face the street paper network in the modern day, how they’ve changed in INSP’s 25 years of existence, and much more. There were also one or two surprising anecdotes about the early days of INSP.

Drawing on collective experience from years working with street papers, Young and Selvan were able to give an overview to the listening audience – one filled with people new and old to the street paper network alike – of how INSP has grown and let out a rallying call for them to continue their work using journalism and media to help alleviate poverty and fight to end homelessness.

Mel Young, Fay Selvan and Hannele Huhtala onstage at #INSP2019. (Credit: Sebastian Sellhorst)

Selvan said: “We are a barometer of social change and what’s happening in the very different countries we come from. But we are the constant – a safety net. We are unique in what we do.”

Young added: “On a personal level, to come here as a founder, after many years away from INSP Summits, and to see how it has grown today is amazing. I feel immense pride. [The street paper network] is an exemplar of what should be happening parts of society where social good organisations are trying to make a change. If we create a solution to a problem, we should share that.”

The two speakers also waded in on Brexit, and other issues of political chaos and social upheaval across the world, and how it affects the work of street papers.

On this subject, Selvan said: “Roma people have come to the UK, and become vendors, to live a better life, and now they are feeling an overwhelming sense of rejection at the hands of Britain. There is an anti-poor people climate that Brexit has stirred too.”

Young explained that street papers would be essential in fighting these issues, through their advocacy work and journalism.

He said: “Brexit is part of something wider going on in Europe and around the world. It’s something that those who work in street papers are going to have to take a stand about. We saw [at the #INSP2019 welcome reception] last night an exhibition that was moving and pertinent. You can see an emergence of people using that rhetoric and ideology now, and Brexit is a manifestation of that.

“People don’t even trust news sources, and so what is written, the journalism of street papers is especially important – in fact more than ever. Street papers should provide a voice that is authentic.

Just like old times: Mel Young participates in delegate discussions earlier in the day. (Credit: Andreas Fuchs)

As a closing gambit, Young expressed his admiration of INSP’s growth and achievements, while also signalling more work to be done. “I started working with street papers in 1993, and we’ve had successes, but there are still millions of people who are homeless. There will need to be systemic change – that’s something an organisation like INSP should be having, and leading towards a time where we are, essentially, putting ourselves out of business.

“The biggest achievement is everyone being sat here right now. it can be hard in this work to get here. These three days are about supporting, celebrating and hugging each other. The more you put into this network, the more you will get back.”

A full transcript of the conversation is now available.