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“I am struck by the passion, creativity and care that powers the street paper project”

Francesca Harrington-Edmans has been working with INSP for the last month as part of a internship programme through the University of Edinburgh Careers Service. On the last day of her internship, she looks back at the insights she’s gained from her experience of the street paper movement.

By Francesca Harrington-Edmans, INSP intern

With my internship coming to a close, I have been reflecting on the warm welcome I have had to the street paper world… and the lessons I have learnt from this INSPirational community.

My INSP experience started when I stumbled upon an advert for a month long internship with the network on my university’s career website. I couldn’t believe my luck: to have found a placement where I could gain experience in fundraising and journalism, whilst working to support the homeless. Although I was already an avid reader of The Big Issue UK and had previously worked with homeless families, this would be my first real insight into the world of street papers. I immediately stopped everything I was doing to throw together an application in the little time I had.

Francesca checks out a selection of international street papers.

After that, it wasn’t long before I was taking my first steps into the street paper world. Those steps were, in fact, taken on the opposite side of the world, in the busy city centre of Melbourne (where I had been studying for a year). It was a freezing-cold Australian winter’s morning (and yes, they do exist), when I headed down to catch up with The Big Issue Australia.

After fighting my way through crowds of the busy central streets, I reached a hidden little alley leading away from all the noise to an old church building. Here was the Vendor Support Office – a cosy little hub filled with activity and friendly faces. It was from these happy vendors and staff, that I got my first official first big welcome to the street paper community.

I chatted to Big Issue institution Kirstie and the team as vendors hurriedly booked their slots, bought their papers and grabbed a quick cuppa before heading back out to work. They told me how they had just celebrated the mag’s 20th birthday and with it Kirsty’s 20 years in the job. They also gave me the lowdown on what makes a good salesperson and the difficulties they face in striking a balance between creating homey vibes and maintaining a hard-working, sales-focused ethos in the office.

I then hurried over to The Big Issue Australia’s new head office, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of their national paper, and the diverse range of educational and fundraising projects that they run alongside it.

First I learnt from Danya about their fantastic new educational initiatives. She introduced me to The Big Issue Classroom, a programme where school kids are told vendors’ stories and learn about homelessness in their city; as well as The Big Idea, a competition in which university students fight to come up with the best idea for a new social enterprise.

Sally, the national manager, then briefed me on their various attempts to branch out in the way they sell the street paper: their experimentation with online content and the Women’s Subscription Enterprise, an initiative that provides vulnerable women with a chance to work for the paper: packing corporate subscriptions in a safe and sociable environment.

My brief time at The Big Issue Australia impressed upon me just how much the enterprising spirit still powers the magazine, as the organisation find more and more diverse ways to create opportunities for vendors and their communities.

A month later in the (still freezing) Glasgow summer, I arrived for my first day of work at INSP. I was greeted by a lovely little team of ladies and a desk piled high with street papers. Eager to dive straight in, I immediately started thumbing my way through the different mags, introducing myself to each of their unique styles. It was only when I eventually came to collect the covers for our July round up that I realised their sheer number and variety. Filling the pages of each mag was creativity and positivity.

When later tasked with coming up with my own story ideas for INSP.ngo, I realised that this passion and imagination extended far beyond the street papers themselves to wealth of inspired projects tackling homelessness worldwide. Whether its music festival like Brylarm, surf lessons for South African street children or The Contributor’s #BossnotBum campaign, innovation seemed to be the driving force behind it all.

It was through this research that I came across the Uma So Voz (‘With One Voice’) festival – the subject of my first article for INSP.ngo [watch out for the story right here, next week]. Uma So Voz marked the second ever Olympics to involve the homeless community and with it came the launch of the With One Voice international homeless arts movement. It seemed appropriate for me to be reporting on the start of a new international homeless movement, as I began my time working with our international network. Having seen for myself the amazing support such a network can provide, I welcomed the opportunity to announce another’s arrival.

I have also been exploring the world of fundraising and corporate sponsorship. I have been introduced to the new trends and technology being used in fundraising, and the exciting changes and opportunities that these offer. Here, again, fresh and creative solutions are being applied to the universal problems – those faced by charities, street papers and vendors alike. How can we stay well-funded and well-supported in such a competitive world?

At the end of this internship, I am left struck by the passion, creativity and care that powers every level of the street paper project. From the vendors and those supporting them, to the journalists and project managers – even here in this little Glasgow office – everywhere along this chain, people work hard to provide vendors with the opportunity to find their own way out of their situation, making sure they have access to the opportunities they deserve.

To find out how you can get involved with INSP, see here.

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