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Big Issue vendors to be given iPhones

July 07 2011
Sellers will become digital content providers, says John Bird


Homeless people selling The Big Issue are to be given iPhones in a radical move to turn them into “local reporters”.

The magazine’s founder, John Bird, said he wanted to help vendors develop new skills while they were on the streets to help them in later life. They will be encouraged to use social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and blogs to upload news stories, audio, and video of life on the streets.

Big Issue vendors stand on streets up and down the country come rain or shine, hence they are uniquely connected to their local area,” said Bird. “We want them to become the eyes and ears of their neighbourhoods, offering a unique perspective and simultaneously developing the skills which will get them off the streets.”

In the future, The Big Issue is aiming to be published online, with digital content created by the vendors posted on the internet alongside the rest of the magazine. A Big Issue spokesman said that they were aiming for all of the magazine’s 3,000 vendors to be equipped with the phones, but could not be drawn on the cost of the new devices - costs will be high, even based on low retail prices for the phones.

In a statement, the Big Issue said, “Vendors have already taken the first step away from homelessness by deciding to sell the magazine, which they buy for £1 and sell to the public for £2, keeping the difference.

“Producing digital content will enable them to engage with a new and wider customer base, as well as equipping them with a number of key skills.”

Mr Bird said the smartphones would be basic models and would be given out as tools for work only, rather than personal use.

"I'm sure some of them will get nicked," he said. "But if it can get them to move away from street life by giving them an alternative, well, we've got to make the jump some time."

The Big Issue recently announced that the unemployed would be allowed to become vendors in the future, with founder Bird saying that “the most unlikely people” would be given jobs - from farmers to out-of-work solicitors.