To better understand the day-to-day impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Manchester’s creatives, we’ve launched a new series inviting spokespeople to share their thoughts on what the future of their sector might look like when things return to normal. This week, we hear from Deputy Editor of The Big Issue North, Antonia Charlesworth… 

Ten years is long enough to do any one thing so when, in the week that marked 10 years since I first wrote Big Issue North’s listings, I sat down to the familiar routine of drawing together the weekly cultural highlights across the region and there were none, I wish I could say it was a welcome change. Instead, it signalled the end of our social and cultural calendars for a while. A pausing of play runs, gigs gagged, art un-exhibited.

That week it took me the best part of my working day and a lot of scrambling around to find eight items for the newly branded what’s on(line) page. But conversely, once compiled, I saw how it opened the page up – readers in the north could walk the length of the Hadron Collider in Geneva, take a virtual tour of the Louvre in Paris and feed Fiona, the baby hippo at the Cincinnati Zoo – all from the comfort of their new home offices, of course.

Every week, as musicians live stream gigs, theatre companies broadcast recordings and galleries get to grips with 360 cameras, it’s become a little bit easier to compile but the listings page is just one tiny example of how we, like every media outlet, cultural institution, employee and school pupil has been forced to adapt over the past month. I’m amazed by our collective flexibility and in moments of optimism it feels like we slipped and fell on the reset button we’ve been too browbeaten to hit. Our systems seemed concrete, and now they are sand. In more frequent low moments we worry that some of our vendors – as vital to us as our readers – are the grains slipping through our fingers.

Big Issue North is usually sold on our now deserted streets and is the only form of income for many of our vendors. They buy the magazine for £1.25 and sell it for £2.50, keeping the profit they make. The rest allows us to continue to publish it. With our vendors unable to sell, we immediately established a hardship fund and found alternative sales models. You can now buy a digital issue, order a print copy online, take out a subscription to Big Issue North or our quarterly publication, The New Issue, or – for the first time in our 25-year history – buy it on your weekly shop in Asda, Co-op, McColls or Sainsbury’s. Fifty per cent of the cover price goes directly into the hardship fund which our brilliant outreach team is working hard to distribute on a needs basis. But some of our vendors are hard to reach and many of them are vulnerable.

We’ll do everything in our power to keep publishing Big Issue North every week and supporting the people who are anxious to get back on the streets to sell it. Homeless or not, we don’t turn anyone away who is desperate enough to want to sell the magazine, and I fear that we’ll come out of lockdown to find a queue of newly unemployed people outside our offices across the north of England. But I am hopeful too that, with our diaries left unopened for a few weeks or months, people realise that culture is more than ticketed events on a what’s on page. Our culture is defined by the people who make up our communities and how we treat them. So if we return to the streets and recognise the person who used to check our coat at a gig or show us to our seat in the theatre as the person now asking us to buy Big Issue North, I hope we do.

To buy a copy of The Big Issue North, visit

Guest Post
Published on:
Wed 29 Apr 2020