13 August 2014

Glasgow City welcomes the INSP conference

By Callum McSorley

Among the grand surrounds of Glasgow’s City Chambers, the INSP's global gathering was officially welcomed by the City Council on Tuesday evening

Long proud of INSP’s link to the city, Glasgow’s Lord Provost is a passionate supporter of INSP and the street paper movement.

With Scotland’s biggest city still buzzing from the successful Commonwealth Games last month, his representative, Baillie Jonathan Findlay said he was proud to again welcome international visitors to the city.

“INSP was founded here in 1994 to enable those involved in publishing and distributing street papers to come to together and support each other and forge an ambitious and uncertain experiment,” he said.

“Now 20 years and 120 street papers later, it is an organised and unified movement of social entrepreneurs who have managed to show the world that there are more innovative ways to tackle homelessness and poverty.”

Expressing his gratitude to the City of Glasgow, recently appointed CEO of The Big Issue UK, Jim Mullan modestly looked forward to the coming week.

“I suspect you guys have lots of things to teach me about what I should be doing and what I should be considering in my current role,” he said. “To see you all here and to have the opportunity to hear about the great work being done all over the world is truly a privilege.”

Delegates were already excited to get to work discussing the place of street papers in the digital age, a central theme of this year’s conference.

Thomas Anthun Neilsen of Megafon [Norway, pictured] said: “It’s a changing world, we’re going from print media to digital media and that transaction is very important. We can take print media and turn it into digital media but we’re not going to lose the fact that we’re actually working with and for homeless people.

“So how can we make street papers into the digital world but still keeping the core mission which is helping homeless people?”

Thomas, a veteran and self-described “old guy” of INSP conferences, is keen to share his paper’s own ideas of how best to do this with an app on the way that lets readers locate their nearest vendor and buy an online version of the magazine.

“A lot of these people are my friends and meeting them, and getting to know them and learn from their experience, that’s really important. We do have plans and we’re going to share them with friends,” he said.

“The annual conference for me is a highlight of the INSP year,” agreed Trudy Vlok of The Big Issue South Africa. “It is an amazing opportunity to get together with colleagues who operate in a similar space, very often in different political and social climates, and talk through the challenges, to look at solutions and to, honestly, just really show support of the work we’re doing.”

INSP Chair Serge Lareault, closed the reception by looking back at INSP’s history as it celebrates its 20th anniversary, now with 123 street papers in 41 countries around the world, but warned that there is still much to be done.

“I started 20 years ago in Montreal and we still haven’t solved the problem,” he said. “We have more and more homeless people in our countries and the gap between the rich and the poor is higher than ever. But we are part of the solution. 

“I hope this week you will have fun but will also create a new vision to change the world.”