Here at the Fold, we love meeting people from all walks life, which is why we’ve introduced ‘Food for Thought’ – an event where we invite interesting folk from all industries to inspire us over a spot of lunch. Last week we welcomed The Big Issue Foundation into the Fold.

The Big Issue Foundation is a financially independent charity that helps Big Issue vendors turn a livelihood into a life. “The process of selling our magazine creates a journey of change,” opens Stephen Robertson, CEO of the Foundation. The Big Issue, which is sold exclusively by homeless people, provides an alternative to crime and begging. By purchasing a copy, you help vendors to make a living: “they’re micro-business people” explains Stephen. One of the biggest challenges the Foundation is faced with daily is getting people to understand that buying the magazine isn’t a charitable act, it’s a real-life business transaction; vendors have their own customers and earn a living just like anyone else. Simply put, they’re workers and not beggars.

What inspired us most was hearing how passionate the Foundation are about helping their vendors. “We focus on goals and aspirations, essentially we ask them what they want, and then we try to make that happen,” says Stephen. Their Vendor Support Fund requires vendors to set a specific goal which they save and contribute 20% towards, the additional 80% is supplied by the Foundation. The scheme has helped Chris from Oxford buy a new suit and shoes for a job interview and provided Anna from Bristol with a passport to use as official ID to open a bank account – simple items which we’re all guilty of taking for granted.

The Foundation also provide platforms for vendors to voice their opinions, something which isn’t always possible for those considered to be on the outskirts of society. Scottish vendors were invited to take part in The Big Issue’s ‘Vendorendum’ – a poll asking which way they would vote ahead of the Scottish independence referendum.

As the talk digressed into the magazine’s digital offering, Stephen commented that it’s somewhat a weird space for them. While they have a website, apps, and create online content, essentially it’s the real-life conversations with vendors and the physical interaction that occurs when buying the magazine, that changes perceptions. The business works so well because of the simple fact that it lets everyday people get close to those who are considered ‘out of reach.’

Perhaps one of the biggest take-outs from the session was being reminded of how important face-to-face conversation is; some of the stories Stephen shared about their vendors were nothing short of fascinating. The immediate interaction that occurs between a consumer and vendor is something we can admire in this digital age, where technology has become a replacement for personal exchanges.

With a poll by Shelter charity revealing the hard-hitting statistic that one in three of us are potentially one paycheck away from homelessness, it’s powerful stuff hearing how passionate the Foundation are about helping their vendors turn their lives around.

Thanks again to The Big Issue Foundation for dropping by and inspiring the Fold – it’s certainly got us thinking.