‘I am much better at selling Big Issue than I was at begging’ - Bristol vendor trials new QR code initiative

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New QR codes on lanyards allow customers to share their local vendor’s subscription, pitch location and story

A Bristol-based Big Issue seller is one of ten vendors in the UK to offer a new digital initiative to his customers.

Jack Richardson, who sells the Big Issue outside Bird & Blend Tea on Park Street in Bristol, is one of the first vendors to trial personalised QR codes on lanyards that allow customers to share their local vendor’s subscription, pitch location and story with friends and family to help boost vendor earnings. 

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This initiative will eventually be rolled out to all vendors. Vendors buy magazines for £2 and sell them on for £4. Customers can also subscribe with a vendor online, which provides a vital additional source of regular income. 

Jack said: “I’m always in favour of trying out new technologies and seeing how they work. I’ve already had a couple of customers who’ve put it up on their social media so we’ll see how that goes.

“But that’s the thing about QR codes, they are so easy to share and I have a lot of young customers here who very much engage in these new technologies.”

Jack is a familiar sight to people walking up and down Park Street and he has been selling the Big Issue there for many years, since he was in his early twenties.

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He says: “I started selling again a few years ago because it was simply me falling back on something I knew I could do. But before, back when I was in my early sort of twenties, I’d had a landlord who very dodgily kept the whole deposit when I left my place.

“I was living hand to mouth with no rent advance and deposit. I was absolutely knocked for a hoop. I spent a good year or so staying on traveller sites and hitching around various places and begging and that was until someone suggested I try selling the Big Issue. And it turned out I was much better at selling the Big Issue than I was at begging.”

On current public perceptions of the Big Issue, Jack says there’s a lot more awareness about it and he calls himself an ‘ethical microbusiness’.

Bristol Big Issue seller Jack Richardson on his Park Street pitchBristol Big Issue seller Jack Richardson on his Park Street pitch
Bristol Big Issue seller Jack Richardson on his Park Street pitch | Big Issue

“One of the reasons I like the Big Issue so much is because the help is non infantilising. A lot of the help that you’re given when you’re in a powerless situation is by its very nature infantilising. The Big Issue isn’t like that, you are given support but in an empowering way.

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“I like being given the flexibility and ownership that selling the Big Issue gives me. I have various mental health problems which means it really helps to be in control of the work I do.

“With the Big Issue I can decide what hours I need to work. If I’m having a really bad week and my mental health is suffering, I can take two, three or four days off if I need to.”

Speaking about his customers and his pitch, Jack said his Park Street spot has become his niche and people are ‘incredibly generous’.

“There was an older lady who I knew from my Park Street pitch who, unbeknownst to me, was very ill. We used to speak to each other quite a bit before lockdown but I lost track of her.

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“About two months after the last lockdown had finished, her daughter came and found me to explain she had sadly died during lockdown, but that she looked through her diary, and in between many quite sad entries there were these really happy ones where she explained that she had spoken to me that day.

“I had told her my wife was agoraphobic and loved playing computer games and right at the end of her diary she had left an envelope with £200 in specifically so I could buy my wife a PlayStation 4. I was blown away, it’s amazing to have been a part of someone’s life like that. Her daughter has stayed in touch with me since too.

“This last eight or nine years, I’ve been the most settled and definitely the happiest of my entire adult life. And that is in no small part down to the stability that the Big Issue gives me. I mean I even met my wife through the Big Issue!”

Lord Bird, Founder of the Big Issue Group, said: “We are pleased to mark the launch of yet another way by which customers can further connect with their local vendor. Which is why we are urging you to help boost your local vendor’s income by scanning their personalised QR code to share the vendor’s story and subscribe.”

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