A few weeks back we brought you the tale of a man who, out of the kindness of his own heart, takes people's broken iPods, fixes them for free and passes them on to others. Could there be a nicer man in the whole kingdom? Well, yes there could.
His name is Richard Burdett, and he edits a free magazine for homeless people. The Pavement has no big charity backing and is almost entirely financed and written by Richard and other volunteers. We caught up with the overworked philanthropist to find out more...
Most readers won't be familiar with The Pavement. What's it all about?
It's a free monthly magazine for the homeless, whether street or in temporary accommodation, with news, features, a service listing and humour from the UK's best cartoonists. It's that simple. Our aim to be a good read above all else.
It's read by rough sleepers, those in day centres, and hostel residents. Of course, we know from correspondence that a lot of those working in homeless organisations read us, but our target audience are homeless. And that's our core readership. We send out 3000 copies a month, and they all go. In fact, they go to places we didn't send to, as readers carry copies across town and beyond. We've had copies turn up in Doncaster, Edinburgh and Cork, which is encouraging.
What kind of articles do you have in there?
The first section is homeless news, or news affecting those on the street. We cover both local stories that we've found, and those reported in the mainstream press which we rewrite/report for our readership. Many stories, particularly those released by large charities, are rather dry, and mainstream stories are often depressing, so we try to find our own news and mix it with light-hearted ones from across the globe. We have features, and then regular columnists; Nurse Flo covers health, Toe Slayer writes foot care, Andrew's got alcohol and drugs, and Jenisa writes about the law in Legal Lounge. Our back pages are taken up with The List, a directory of homeless services, which we're hoping to expand into a quarterly booklet. Our writers are professionals writing on their specific topic, and our journalists are all volunteers poached from larger titles.
How do you get the copies out to people?
We distribute through around 40 stockists across London, mostly day centres, and that grows monthly as we get requests from people who've found migrating copies in their centres. We'd like to expand in the near future, but delivery is currently in a borrowed van and driver, lent by the Simon Community. However, we're now investing in our own distribution, buying a couple of second-hand courier-trikes which readers will ride to make deliveries. It'll be relatively cheap, work in London traffic, and give us flexibility in delivery
What prompted you to set up The Pavement?
The Pavement was set up by myself and two journalist friends (I'm not a hack), and fills a gap in the market. No-one was doing what we're doing, and some things, like Westminster's policy of Building-Based Services, were going on largely unreported. Also, some organisations weren't letting their regulars know what was going on; there's a lot of talk about "user consultation" but it's largely window dressing.
Does it make any money through advertising? How do you afford the production and printing?
We're trying to sell advertising, with a little success. Three pages of adverts would cover our print costs, and we want to sell two types of ads. Firstly, we want to run adverts for homeless organisations holding specific events or services, which means we can offer them a conduit to their demographic. Secondly, we want to get some 'normal' advertising to avoid becoming a pariah paper - film adverts, coffee shops et cetera. Our homeless readers watch films and drink coffee. Our print costs alone are around £1,000 a month and we need advertising to stop eating into any capital we get together.
Have you thought about expanding to other cities?
We are planning to expand to other cites, begin with those in Scotland. We have the art, templates and software to produce different editions, and it would help us raise our profile, which is limited if we remain in the capital alone.
If you could change one piece of legislation that would make life easier for homeless people, what would it be?
Remove the Vagrancy Act. It can still be used to arrest people on the streets.
Should we give our change to homeless people begging on the street, or instead donate to charities such as Crisis who may be able to channel the money more effectively?
Give to beggars if you want. I find begging far less objectionable than charity muggers (chuggers) employed by the big charities, who most people don't realise are on an hourly rate and not from that charity. If you do worry about money given to beggars going on drink or drugs, reflect on how they'll get the money otherwise. I don't give, but it's a personal choice. If you wanted to give to charity, your money might be more effectively used on a smaller charity without massive offices and administration - shop around.
How does the London homeless situation compare to 10 years ago?
Numbers on the street fluctuate, but it's hard to tell what's seasonal and what's economic. Also, official massaging of statistics make it hard to get accurate figures. I don't think we'll see the end of homelessness, unless you're expecting Utopia, and even then there'll be a few that don't want to be indoors or plugged into the system. We'll have colonies on Mars, and there'll be homeless in the corridors of the living pods. I'm not been pessimistic, just realistic. The most notable change recently is the numbers of east europeans on the streets. It's mostly Polish, followed in numbers by Lithuanians, but with the recent joining of Bulgaria and Romania, we'll have to wait to see the impact they make on numbers. Of course, some complain that migrant workers are taking hostel places up and getting preferential treatment, which is ridiculous. It is true that some services have had to support those who've come to London with no work lined-up, nor a command of English, especially services such as soup runs. For many migrants this is the only support available, as by the law the A8 countries can come to work here, but can't claim benefit if they don't find it. Thus many are dependent on charities for support.