Big Issue founder launches Northampton scheme to 'replace aid with trade'

Tony Knaggs, Goodwill Solutions CIC, Lord John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, Robin Burgess, CEO of Northampton Hope, Nick Petford, Vice Chancellor at the University of Northampton
Tony Knaggs, Goodwill Solutions CIC, Lord John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, Robin Burgess, CEO of Northampton Hope, Nick Petford, Vice Chancellor at the University of Northampton

Lord John Bird has encouraged more organisations to follow the example of Northampton's Hope Centre and do business with social enterprises.

Lord Bird hosted the UK’s first social trading conference at the Guildhall, called ‘How to Create a Social Echo’.

He wants Northampton organisations to pledge to spend money with other groups that benefit society. In buying services from each other, they could move away from a reliance on grants.

Lord Bird said: "What if 100 local businesses started buying services from each other locally to the profit of the community?

"For example, the housing association could offer the gardening services that they provide to their housing estates to the local insurance business or estate agent.

"Working together, the community could bulk-buy, share resources and grow businesses – with part of the profits from this trading allocated for social support for local people in poverty.

"This is about turning local consumers and local businesses into more conscious players in community prosperity and life.

"Why can’t the local deli, or the local sandwich shop, buy their vegetables from the gardening programme which creates work and purpose to people in need?"

The Big Issue founder and editor believes poverty can be dismantled through business solutions.

Since 1991 the magazine has operated on this philosophy, giving a hand-up to thousands of vendors.

Lord Bird says the challenge now is how whole communities can come together to build social trading eco-systems that enable communities to flourish.

Lord Bird acknowledges that a lot of this is already going on in Northampton, it’s simply a question of doing more of it.

"None of this is new. I’ve never come up with an original idea in my life," he says.

"But what is new is the desire to turn this into a system. And to make it the norm within a community.

"Not just a bit here or there. Not a pilot, or a demo of good intentions. Rather a boringly everyday reality where each business and every individual realises that if they change their trading, they change the world around them."

The conference brought together representatives of local businesses, charities, social enterprises and public-sector bodies.

Those taking part on the day included the University of Northampton, the Hope Centre, Northamptonshire Chamber of Commerce and Voluntary Impact Northamptonshire.

The Big Issue now wants to take the social echo idea to more large towns across the country. It aims to win over places that have populations of around 300,000 people.

Lord Bird said: "We chose Northampton for this first foray into a ‘local revolution through conscious trading’ because of our links with Northampton Hope.

"They are already doing a number of the types of trading that we’re advocating. For example, they sell the vegetables they grow to people stuck in poverty, and they are already using trade to create revenue and opportunities for the people they work with."

Lord Bird added: "We are not going to Northampton to get everyone to sign up to being nicer to homeless people or fill in forms for human rights.

"We are not looking for hollow words about good intentions. Rather we are trying to ‘pool’ efforts. To create a revolutionary reinvention of the local economy."