Social trading: Lord John Bird’s ‘One Million Tea Towel Challenge’.

As The Big Issue hits 25+1, social trading is the next big step. Founder Lord John Bird realised that we could help to change the world, one tea towel at a time…

I realised I loved tea towels; when they were clean. I realised how useful they are in the world.

I also realised that many people didn’t have a home. That the tea towel meant you needed a kitchen. To have a kitchen you needed a home. What use was a tea towel if you were homeless?

“I realised that beyond the symbolism, there was a means for helping a lot of people. Each sale could be useful. It was clear and very straightforward.”

You need to belong in the world. What about making a tea towel that was about making people happier in the world? Helping them to be useful. Helping groups working with those in need to raise money, by selling tea towels? That’s when I came up with the idea of selling one million Tea Towels at £5 a tea towel. With as much of the money as possible going back to helping people to help themselves.

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Initially, I thought of focusing on organisations who use gardening to help people with mental health issues. The tea towel sales would swell their coffers. I want to help them, but now, plans have grown. I want it to help more and more. The sales will help The Big Issue continue our mission of working to beat poverty.

But we’ll also be able to grow and help other organisations and groups who are doing great work but could use a boost. The Big Issue has spent 25+1 years helping those in need. And now, it’s time to help other organisations trying to do the same.

This is sociable trading! At its very best, simple and life-enhancing. Proving the power of all working together. A Sociable tea towel as an act of solidarity.

The Big Issue tea towel has my first poem on it, entitled The Gardener’s Lament, about the continuous struggles of gardeners to overcome the seemingly insuperable power of weeds.

You can buy it from The Big Issue Shop, and help us to help those that we can. If you want to buy in bulk or see your organisation benefit, contact

The above article by John Bird first published on in Sep, 2017.