Look beyond the bright red vest

April, 2013 – My short documentary aims to bring in the spotlight the concept behind the Big Issue foundation and the stories of a handful of people who sell the magazine. Stephen Robertson, who has been CEO at the Big Issue Foundation since July 2007, will explain how the charity helps people who are homeless. 

Homelessness is an isolating and destructive experience and homeless people are some of the most vulnerable and socially excluded in our society. At worst, homelessness can mean sleeping rough on the streets. However, the problem of homelessness is much bigger than that of rough sleeping.

In the age of social media where superficiality is king, we can hardly escape from stereotypes. Once a person is labelled as homeless, people tend to ignore them and hence we never get to know and understand the them.

As a PR student, I hear a lot about storytelling. But how often do we take the time to listen?

Priding ourselves on communication is part of our job description. Nevertheless, I often notice, that it sometimes turns into a dialogue of the deaf because we are trained to talk, but not to listen.

Taking the time to listen, to genuinely listen, transforms our perspective on people, concepts, new thinking. It transforms our understanding of what shapes people’s hopes, aspirations, fears and preferences.

Think about the ability to listen and picture the rainbow splashed across the London’s thick clouds. It enlightens the sky, changes the landscape and brightens up our day. It creates valuable moments, which will wow your heart tomorrow. Stop and listen to the stories, the effect will be the same.

 I’ve been living in London for two years now. As this ‘monster of a city’ captivates me, I often wander around the busy streets and get lost in the hustle and bustle of the megalopolis. The long walks connect me to it, feed my curiosity and encourage my creativity. Among countless noises coming from all over the place, I sometimes hear a shout: Big Issue! Big Issue! Ladies and Gents, Big Issue! Not surprisingly, the first instinct is not to stop and buy the magazine, but to walk out of the vendor’s sight. Why? The world we live in shapes some kind of stereotypes, from which we can hardly escape. It is said that humans see only what is visible to the eyes. Therefore, when meeting a person who wears strained clothes and has funny hair we tend to ignore and judge by outward appearance only. Nevertheless, as I found myself in this situation several times, one day I decided to stop by. I wanted to see what was the story behind that bright red vest, which stood out on a cold, cloudy day…

One day I stopped by to talk to a Big Issue vendor. The two minutes chat revealed the unfortunate story of a man who lost both his home and family support . Nevertheless, there were a few lessons he learnt from this experience, which is why he decided to stop blaming the world for his failures.Therefore, he looked inside himself and found the strength to do something differently. And he is not the only one.

Last year alone Big Issue Foundation worked with over 3000 individuals, enabling people who are homeless to take control of their lives. It is impressive how these people do not expect anyone to do something for them, but they themselves take the opportunity to escape from a long and severe ‘recession’.

According to the government there were 2,414 people reported by local councils across the country sleeping rough on any one night in 2013, up from 2,309 in 2012 and from 1,768 in 2010.

In the light of the dramatic figures published by the Government we are reminded more than ever of the significance of our homes, which provide a sense of hope thanks to the good memories created there and the protection we feel once we walk through the door. Therefore, let’s regard homelessness beyond the idea of rooflessness. A home is not just a physical space, it also has a legal and social dimension. Homeless is about the loss of all these. It is an isolating and destructive experience and homeless people are the most vulnerable and socially excluded in our society.

Next time you pass by a Big Issue Vendor, think that the bright red vest hides a life story, which is worth saving.



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