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‘Real life’ lessons make a difference

REDFERN: The Big Issue, which next year celebrates 15 years of service and social enterprise in Sydney, is now well ensconced in Little Eveleigh Street. Staff member, Melissa Brooks, NSW Coordinator of The Big Issue Classroom project, has been busy preparing and facilitating interactive workshops on homelessness in various primary and secondary schools reports Andrew Collis in the December 2011 issue of The South Sydney Herald .

The work, she says, is highly rewarding. “I’ve been with The Big Issue since May this year. We visit schools each week and sometimes student groups come to meet us here.” Since moving into the new premises, The Big Issue has hosted workshops in its own classroom space (previously, meetings were held at the Redfern Community Centre). Training of vendors also takes place on site. Vendors are prepared for roles as Guest Speakers in schools. As of early 2012, e-Classroom facilities will enable communication with students from all over the country.

Ms Brooks, who has a background in education, estimates that workshops have involved more than 1,500 students over the past seven months. Most come from years 8-11. “We usually start by examining some stereotypes of homelessness,” she says. “Kids often assume that a homeless person is a man with an unkempt beard, old clothes and so on. The reality is that there are all kinds of people affected by homelessness. Kids are surprised how many women and children under 12 are homeless.” There are currently about 10,000 homeless children under 12 years of age in Australia.

The workshops help students to understand some of the causes of homelessness. Family breakdown and poverty are critical factors. “We point out that people are homeless due to circumstances beyond their control. Children do not choose to be disadvantaged,” Ms Brooks says. “Guest Speakers are prepared and paid for their time,” she explains. “It’s good to see them developing their skills – public speaking and other skills that will assist toward future employment.”

Students are encouraged to ask questions of Guest Speakers. According to Ms Brooks, they frequently want to know what they can do in response to homelessness. “Students learn that they can acknowledge homeless people as people – they can treat them with respect, smile and say hello.”

No doubt many become avid readers and supporters of the quality magazine.

The Big Issue Classroom is currently operating in Sydney (and Melbourne) and will be delivered online via an e-Classroom workshop from early 2012. For all bookings and enquiries visit or contact Melissa Brooks on 02 9319 6300;

Photo: Peter Holcroft Vendor Glenn Pilley is a Vendor and Guest Speaker on homelessness

Source: South Sydney Herald December 2011