The Australian edition of The Big Issue recently celebrated its 25th birthday.
For a quarter of a century the not-for-profit magazine known for its slogan ‘we help people to help themselves’ has provided work opportunities for those experiencing disadvantage and homelessness.
Since it was first sold on the stairs of Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station on June 16, 1996 the organisation has spread across the country with more than 7000 vendors working to distribute the magazine every fortnight to a readership of over 250,000 people per year.
Vendor Con: ‘It makes me happy to work’
Con, has been selling The Big Issue at Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne for over 15 years.
“I am from Greece, from Cyprus. I came here with my family before the war, in 1964. It makes me happy to work. I sell The Big Issue for something to do, and to make extra money for food and the doctor,” he told The Greek Herald.
Due to the lockdowns in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT vendors like Con have been unable to sell for some months now and have missed the income and their connection to the community.
“I understand we have to stay home to be safe but I don’t like the city empty. There are no people walking in the streets. I miss being around my customers,” Con said.
Some of Con’s customers have been buying the magazine from him for years.
“I have many customers of all ages. On Saturdays, I have two different favourite regular customers: one brings me spaghetti, and the other brings me rice! Some others buy me breakfast and give me pocket money especially during Christmas and Easter.”
Anastasia Safioleas: A Greek face behind the pages
One of the people behind the scenes who ensure that the publication’s content remains relevant for its readership is contributing editor Anastasia Safioleas.
Safioleas who first joined the magazine 17 years ago, said that although The Big Issue has not been immune to the challenges brought to the media by the Covid-19 pandemic the editorial team have been working tirelessly to navigate their way through the difficulties and help those in the margins.
“We put together this magazine for our vendors and our readers. It’s really important to us that the vendors are able to hold up the magazine with confidence. It’s all about providing them with a quality product that they are proud of and are happy to sell,” she said.
The contributing editor explained that The Big Issue is “a real labour of love” and said that through its pages it strives to tell the stories of people “who ordinarily don’t have a voice in media.”
“One of the best things about The Big Issue is that we really do lean in on the lived experience. I feel lucky to be able to help put together this magazine, get to write about really important issues and help some of the most vulnerable people in our country. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” she said.
Asked about the lessons she has learnt throughout her career with the organisation so far Anastasia talked about the importance of humanity and kindness.
“Particularly kindness, goes a long, long way. Sometimes it’s just the simple things that make the biggest difference.”
“I have also learned not to judge, to keep an open mind and not to take anything for granted. Most of us are very lucky. We don’t realize that there is no much difference between us and the people who sleep rough or battle addiction. The line is really fine,” she said.
“If you see a Big Issue vendor, go up and say ‘hi’. A lot of them love a chat. Even if you don’t buy the magazine just go and have a chat. It will make a huge difference to them,” said Anastasia.
To find out more about The Big Issue or to support your local vendor visit: thebigissue.org.au