Employer Insight: The Big Issue – More Than a Magazine

Thanks to my colleagues Sharon Cant and Janet Onyia for this blog post with insights from Rebecca Pringle of The Big Issue. It gives a great insight into this organisation – Rebecca

I recently met with History & Politics Alumna Rebecca Pringle, who is an Outreach Sales Worker with the Big Issue, working in their Edinburgh Office.  I was surprised to learn just how small the paid-staff of the Big Issue office is in Edinburgh – just 2 full time members of staff!  They do also employ Relief Outreach & Sales workers to provide occasional cover, a role that was recently advertised on MyCareerHub. Whilst they have some volunteers, it is still a pretty small team.  Rebecca was also keen to point out that the Big Issue isn’t a charity but a Social Enterprise.

The way the Big Issue operates is to sell each copy of the magazine to the street vendors at a cost of £1.25, and the vendors then sell them onto the public at a cost of £2.50.  They are clear that want to give a hand-up, not a hand-out, and through this model have helped hundreds of thousands of people to take control of their lives over the past 24 years.  Another Edinburgh Alumna, Beth Johnston, who was a volunteer and then a Relief Outreach Sales Worker, explains below what her experience of working in a Social Enterprise gave her:

“Whilst studying for my degree in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, I was inspired to write my dissertation on “The Big Issue” by a vendor on the meadows who had an obvious passion for his job. In order to get to know the vendors I decided to volunteer in the office a few times a week. Whilst volunteering I was able to gain not only knowledge for my university subject, but invaluable skills working with vulnerable people.

The role involved working in the office selling vendors their magazines, inputting data, contacting other organisations, developing social media and going on outreach to work with vendors on their pitch. The role really was what you made it, from working in the office to playing rugby with the Edinburgh team and baking a birthday cake to celebrate Big Issues 21st Birthday. The staff team gave me the freedom develop my skills whilst also supporting me through any problems I had. Once I completed my dissertation I continued to volunteer and became a relief member of staff with added responsibilities.

Working for the Big Issue gave me awareness and skills I was able to apply to my first working role out of university as a support worker in a hostel for homeless young people. I currently work for a homeless charity in Edinburgh as a youth worker, applying my outreach skills, signposting and understanding of vulnerable people which I developed through working at the Big Issue.”

Volunteering not only enhances your skills (i.e. communication, problem solving and time management), but as demonstrated above, can also lead to paid employment. Find out more about volunteering on our website.

If a career with a social enterprise interests you, or you’d like to find out more about working with charities, our sector pages on Public Services, Charity and Development will provide you with a range of resources.


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