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Big Issue Foundation Scotland

A hand up, not a hand out

26-02-2011 | Even if you haven't heard of social enterprise, you're bound to know what the Big Issue is.
Best known for its street newspaper, which offers homeless and vulnerably housed people the opportunity to earn a legitimate income; the social enterprise is synonymous with helping homeless people to reintegrate into mainstream society. Now it has set out to tackle the root causes of homelessness, working with children to prevent the problems that all too often lead to homelessness in the first place.

Street wise

When the Big Issue was launched in the mid nineties it challenged the very basis of how charities operated. The idea of homeless people selling their own magazine direct to the public was revolutionary to say the least. At that time homeless people were an invisible statistic - at best ignored, at worst actively avoided. Giving them the opportunity to earn a legitimate income through selling the Big Issue and interacting with the public introduced a new approach to working with the homeless. A hand up, not a hand out.

The recognition that, in addition to homelessness, most vendors faced a range of other problems associated with poverty - family breakdown, physical and mental ill health, alcohol and drug abuse - prompted the formation of the Big Issue Foundation Scotland (BIFS) in 1996.

For the next 12 years, BIFS was at the forefront of a range of initiatives addressing the issues arising from and underlying homelessness. The success of Grand Central Savings, which provides basic financial services to financially excluded sections of the community, and the now global Homeless World Cup demonstrate BIFS's achievements in championing new ideas and projects. 

A new direction

Over time BIFS became increasingly aware that many of the difficulties experienced by vulnerable adults could be traced back to trauma and difficulties in the care they received in their early years. A strategic review at the end of 2008 steered BFIS in a radical new direction - prevention.

The new strategy was launched through the With Kids project - a child-centred approach that involves early intervention. At the core of the ethos is the belief that individuals, including children, given the right support, know the best solutions to their difficulties.

With Kids is based in the east end of Glasgow, an area with some of the highest levels of child poverty in Scotland. One of BFIS's core aims is to assist children improve their ability to function in mainstream education, increase attainment and ultimately improve their later life prospects. For children growing up in a disadvantaged community, characterised by poverty in all its aspects, school is often the only safe, reliable and consistent environment. BFIS currently provides a service to 10 schools and nurseries in the area, with plans to extend further. One-to-one sessions and group work with a dedicated With Kids member of staff fosters long-term, trusting relationships for the children.

Child at heart

Implicit in this child-centred approach is the recognition of the need to gain the support of and work with the families and other significant adults in the child's life to meet the challenges they and their children face. Space to offer services for children, parents and families out of school was limited at BFIS's existing premises so at the end of 2009 when the opportunity to buy property next door arose, BIFS approached Triodos.

"We were working to meet a very tight timescale, Triodos pulled out all the stops to ensure that the deal was completed on time," says John Findlay, Executive Director at BIFS. A loan from Triodos enabled BIFS to buy the property, enabling the charity to develop service in the community including a drop-in facility for parents and older children, dance and play therapies, creative classes, counselling services and workshops, as well as opportunities for fundraising and volunteering.

John adds, "it was refreshing to work with a bank that understood our work and wished to engage positively with a third sector organisation."

Project CV

In recognition of the often complex and deep-seated problems which underlie homelessness,  the Big Issue Foundation Scotland was established in 1996 as the charitable arm of the Big Issue in Scotland,. With the central ethos of helping people to help themselves, BIFS provided a range of services to help homeless adults take control of their lives and find permanent homes and jobs. Its With Kids project, launched at the end of 2008, marked a strategic change in direction to develop an early intervention, preventative approach aimed at the most vulnerable children and families.


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