Our blog will see guest features from leaders in the third sector; and to start things off we have a dear friend and founder of The Big Issue, John Bird. At just 5 years old, John Bird became homeless before residing in an orphanage until 10. In his teenage years he turned to theft for income and would later be in prison for petty crimes. He now proudly sits in the House of Lords, where he fights for social injustices and gives a voice to those in poverty and who are homeless. The Big Issue was the start of his social entrepreneurial journey, and he has since been a part of many social enterprises and political movements.
“I will go down in the history books as the inventor of The Big Issue. The fact that I invented numerous other magazines will probably not even get a footnote in the history books. But up until recently I was inventing away at a fair rate on knots.
What stopped me was the pandemic. I lost the appetite for coming up with new ideas for magazines, most of which never saw the light of day. A magazine to flourish has to have hundreds of things working for it. It’s a tough old world.
But I have not been idle. Instead, I invented a movement. It’s called RORA: “Ride out Recession Alliance”. And it brings big businesses, like Nationwide and Unilever, with charities like Shelter and Generation Rent, together with individuals and politicians who want to stop people being made homeless through job loss caused by Covid.
So, it’s a clever alliance that at the moment numbers a few hundred which we wish to grow to number thousands and thousands. Why? Because poverty created by the pandemic can push people into evictions and into homelessness. And hundreds of thousands of homeless families and individuals frightens the hell out of me.
RORA is beginning to be taken up by government and by business because it helps people get back into work. It has a website that is full of jobs and training, upskilling and new positions you may want to increase. At the same time, it campaigns to keep people in their homes, taking up the Prime Ministers declaration that ‘no one will be made homeless by Covid-19’. We have to ensure that we don’t get mass homeless because it will destroy people’s lives for decades.
I started The Big Issue to work with people who were already homeless. But what if suddenly we had people laid off from their work and unable to get work? And then slip into eviction.
RORA is bringing businesses together to put pressure on the government to stand by its word. But also to help us create work, and on our website we already have hundreds of jobs and skill increasing training.
In 2018 we created a conference in Northampton that brought many businesses together. The idea was to get businesses and charities to start trading together. We called the conference ‘The Social Echo’ Conference and it was about stitching together the support groups within communities. It was very imaginative, and we managed to get a number of concerns working together. The hospital buying bread from the local baker, the sandwich bar buying the service of a housing project etc.
It didn’t quite take off, but the idea of a social echoing around a community did take seed. And last year Social Echo worked overtime in and around Peterborough working with those hit by the lockdown. Bringing food to the neediest and helping people with problems thrown up by isolation. Social Echo is a very simple way of saying that whatever act you make in the community it will resound around, positive or negative. And sure enough the actions of the Social Echo team has had very positive effects and is now being looked at by government and local authorities. (socialecho.uk will get you in touch).
I was so interested in the power of local communities that back in 2018 I even had a new magazine title to go with the work of Social Echo. It was called “Darning Street: stitching together the social fabric”.
It didn’t go far. But I do believe that most of us have all woken up to the power of working locally. I know that increasingly government and local authorities are realising that a blasted community can only put pressure of the NHS, local government services and cost much more in the end.
Back to the community! if we want to get out of the troubles thrown up by the pandemic then its back to where we live. A positive social echo will work wonders. Promise to try it once and see if you dont get hooked on that feeling too.”