Changing The World Through Street Papers

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By Mike Findlay

Mike Findlay, Chief Executive of the International Network of Street Papers, explains how the street paper network is tackling poverty both locally and globally.

Most of us will know The Big Issue. Here in Glasgow, you may have purchased a copy near Central Station or outside Waitrose on Byres Road. You may even know your own local vendor by name.

But, did you know that ‘street papers’ – publications sold by people experiencing poverty, homelessness, or other forms of marginalisation – exist throughout the world as separate charities or social enterprises in their own right, using creative ways to tackle poverty?

Street papers provide people with an immediate, dignified and legitimate way to earn money whilst seeking to address the causes of poverty through journalism and advocacy.

Glasgow is home to the International Network of Street Papers (INSP), a charity operating both as the membership network and news service for street papers.

INSP’s aim is to support street papers to alleviate poverty and build a movement for social change. Our membership consists of over 90 street papers in 35 different countries, each of them making a tangible and lasting difference to the lives of people experiencing poverty.

INSP champions the voices of people who have faced social and economic marginalisation. We know only too well how such communities can face discrimination and prejudice, and we believe in the power of independent media to challenge perceptions, counteract stereotyping and turnaround the life chances of people facing multiple challenges.

We do this through the INSP News Service, a news wire connecting street paper editorial newsrooms, fostering collaboration and the sharing of stories and resources in up to 24 languages thanks to our volunteer translators. This means the same article can be published in many street papers simultaneously.

Our network covers the big news topics of the day – including the Ukraine war, climate crisis, restrictions on abortion access, and the refugee crisis, to name a few – all reported on through the lens of homelessness and poverty.

As Steven MacKenzie, deputy editor of The Big Issue based in Glasgow, comments: ‘INSP’s News Service is a great way for different titles from across the world to collaborate and share. Each street paper has its own editorial concerns and specialities. Having a forum to connect to them all is really useful and means we can take advantage of frontline reporting being carried out in their areas. In the last few months this has been especially useful when reporting on the Ukraine conflict. Street papers based in neighbouring countries have been directly impacted by the movement of refugees, and being able to get that insight provides a unique and personal way to cover big stories, making our coverage stand out.

Another way INSP is championing underrepresented voices is through our Housing for the People column, allowing opportunities for writers from low-income backgrounds to have a platform for their stories. Coaching and mentoring is provided, with each contributor treated as a professional writer, receiving an income for each published article. As one contributor, Vicky Batcher, explains: ‘It’s such a humbling experience that others would find comfort, encouragement and ideas from anything I write. To be paid for, is another level all itself. It’s such an honour to be asked to write about my experiences for INSP. What power that has and what a feeling of accomplishment when I see “Vicky Batcher” in the by-line. It’s life changing.

I joined INSP in May of this year and I am already struck by the depth of support people receive from our members beyond the simple transaction of selling street papers. Wide wrap-around support is given for example around wellbeing, practical assistance with finances and housing, and employment skills.

As someone brought up with a strong sense of social justice since childhood (Dad led a career in social work, and Mum worked with the NHS for decades), INSP’s commitment to tackling inequality gaps drove me to the organisation.

I am continuously inspired by our members ability to think and act innovatively. In Mexico City, the street paper Mi Valedor works with local partners to ensure vulnerable communities can access free health services in a non-discriminatory way. It is involved in several ‘vaccination days’ throughout the year, setting up services on the street or in shelters for people to get influenza vaccines, HIV and syphilis detection tests, glucose and blood pressure tests and general check-ups.   

Over the past year, our network has continued to face unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite this – and, in some ways, spurred on by this challenge – INSP has continued its success. We have welcomed four new street papers as members of our network: two in Germany, and one each in southern Italy and Brazil.

We are a small charity of only five staff members in Glasgow, with one additional colleague leading operations in North America. But our ambitions are big: our Global Street Paper Summit this September in Italy will allow our members to reunite for the first time since the pandemic, and we are thinking through plans for a street paper festival in 2024 coinciding with the charity’s 30th Anniversary.

In Glasgow, we are keen to partner with creative agencies and individuals who have an interest in what we do. We are also looking for new donors, supporters, and volunteers to help us fulfil our mission of changing the world through street papers.

Website: insp.ngo

Twitter: @insp / @MikeFindMedia

Instagram: instagram.com/insp.agram

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