With Kids – An Initiative of the Big Issue Foundation Scotland

With Kids – An Initiative of the Big Issue Foundation Scotland
Big Issue Foundation Scotland


The Big Issue has been on the streets of Scotland since 1993 – founded by Mel Young, who worked the magazine, and Tricia Hughes who recruited homeless people into the sales force.  Over the next 15 years, it is estimated that about 20,000 individuals had a go as vendors – from whom a great deal was learned about life on the edge of society.  Sales of the magazine generated around £24m of which £14m went directly into the pockets of vendors.

Most of the Big Issue vendors were not only homeless, but had various other problems-which often accompany poverty; alcoholism, mental illness, recidivism, drug addiction etc.  In response to this situation a parallel Foundation was set up in 1996 called The Big Issue Foundation Scotland.  BIFS is not a ‘normal’ charity offering handouts to the needy.  Its central ethos is to help people to help themselves – and in this spirit – assistance was offered over the years – around employment and training – physical and mental health support – art and recreational opportunities.  Some of these initiatives still operate as stand alone enterprises.

The Big Issue experience – steady work and associated support – helps many individuals to stabilize their lives – quit drugs, sustain a tenancy etc. but, particularly in Glasgow, a core group (numbered in thousands) remains stuck in a vagrant, demoralized lifestyle – with devastating levels of self harming and suicide.  The defining characteristic of these individuals seems to be failed childhood – involving poverty, neglect, abuse and trauma.  This begs the question whether, for such individuals, help in adult years comes too late.

Moving Upstream

Most of the individuals who end up on Scotland’s streets grew up in housing estates known for their shameful concentration of poverty in all its aspects: debt, worklessness, violence, drugs/alcohol addiction, mental health problems, broken health and premature death.  Not surprisingly, the spirit of such communities is demoralized, ordinary everyday support all but exhausted.  Over the years families have fragmented; partners change more often, grannies or aunties no longer live nearby making many parents isolated and coping alone with crises.

All of this is particularly damaging for young children, never authors of their own fate, who simply learn to cope and lower their expectations.  In recent years the nurseries and primary schools serving our poorest communities report a significant increase in the number of children enrolling with emotional and behaviour problems.  Big Issue research indicates a direct link between these distressed children and future homelessness

In 2006 Tricia Hughes decided to take the Big Issue Foundation Scotland ‘upstream’ into a more preventative role; research overwhelmingly supports such an approach.  She retrained as a child psychotherapist and has created a new programme called ‘With Kids’.

The programme is established in the East End of Glasgow helping nursery and primary schools to respond to the needs of children and families showing early signs of not coping.  Responses are tailored to the needs of a particular child and family and can involve anything from intense one to one therapy – to help with the threat of evictions.