London is the theatre capital of the world, but it's also the homelessness capital of the UK, accounting for 24% of the national total of rough sleepers*. In a unique partnership with The Big Issue, WhatsOnStage aims to celebrate the successes of the West End while also addressing the urgent needs of the population on the streets outside those famous theatre buildings.
WhatsOnStage has named The Big Issue Foundation as the official charity of the WhatsOnStage Awards, which are now entering their 14th year. The Big Issue Foundation is a charitable organisation which helps the The Big Issue magazine's homeless vendors take their next steps off the street. The annual four-month campaign for the original "theatregoers' choice" awards – including the two star-studded events which top and tail audience voting – will be held in aid of The Big Issue Foundation.
WhatsOnStage will also work closely with The Big Issue Foundation and The Big Issue Company – which produces and distributes the magazine and which has signed up as an Official Media Partner of the Awards – on a series of powerful, year-round editorial and fundraising initiatives to shine a spotlight on homelessness in Theatreland and beyond.
Terri Paddock, managing director of WhatsOnStage, commented: "In recent years, as the recession has hit all levels of society, homelessness has been on the rise, and the devastating impact on individuals' lives is no more evident than on the streets of London.
"For the price of two theatre tickets, a theatregoer could buy a year's worth of Big Issues or donate just £10 a month direct to The Big Issue Foundation, either of which could have a transformational effect. Of course, it's not an either/or. We need audiences to see shows and help us decide which ones are award worthy, but if they also budget The Big Issue into the price of their night out …. well, everyone really would be a winner then."
Stephen Robertson, chief executive of The Big Issue Foundation, said: "We are delighted to have been selected as the charity of choice for these prestigious Awards. This partnership will help us challenge some of the stereotypes that are associated with people who are homeless as well as generate vital funds to support our services. Homelessness is increasingly visible on the streets of our capital, and our work is 100% reliant on the support of our donors. WhatsOnStage's commitment to help make a difference where and when it counts most should be commended by everyone."
A history of giving
Since they were founded in 2000, charity has always been a key remit of the WhatsOnStage Awards. To date, WhatsOnStage has selected a different arts-related charity every year to champion as part of the Awards campaign. In addition to the association with the best of British theatre and proceeds received from the two Awards events, the charity benefits from widespread exposure on WhatsOnStage.com and gains a valuable platform to directly address both the theatre industry and the theatregoing public.
Previous Awards charities have included InterAct, Stage One, The Theatrical Guild, Masterclass, TheatreMAD, Mousetrap Theatre Projects, SAFE (Sponsored Arts for Education), Sophie's Silver Lining Fund and the Drake Music Project.
This will be the first time that WhatsOnStage has adopted a non-arts related charity and, also for the first time, rather than a single Awards year agreement, WhatsOnStage is now entering into a long-term partnership with The Big Issue Foundation and The Big Issue magazine.
Nominations open for the 2014 WhatsOnStage Awards on 1 November 2013. The shortlists are announced at the Awards Launch Party held on Friday 6 December at Café de Paris. Online voting then commences to decide the eventual winners, which will be announced on Sunday 23 February 2014 at a major West End theatre, where trophies will be presented.
All professional productions – from West End to Fringe – opened in London between 1 December 2012 and 30 November 2013 are eligible for nomination in the 2014 Awards. Voting takes place online and is strictly monitored, with only one vote accepted per person.
About The Big Issue Foundation: A hand up, not a hand out
The Big Issue Company, founded by John Bird and Gordon Roddick as a pioneering social enterprise in 1991, offers people who are homeless the opportunity to earn their own money; a livelihood. The vulnerably housed buy the magazine for £1.25 and sell it for £2.50 in targeted consumer hotspots, including key pitches in and around London's West End.
The Big Issue Foundation offers vendors the opportunity of a life. The charity works tirelessly alongside the magazine's vendors to help them deal with the issues that have caused their homelessness or have developed as a result of hitting the streets.
It can be as little as 12 months from a significant life event to losing everything and arriving on the street. In the 22 years since The Big Issue was founded, it has worked with over 100,000 individuals, offering them vital support and personal solutions that enable them to rebuild their lives; to find their own paths as they journey away from homelessness.
*According to Rough Sleeping Statistics England, published by the Department for Communities and Local Government, London's rough sleeper count increased by 25% between 2011 and 2012. Overall, London accounted for 24% of the total national figure for 2012. Rough sleeping is the most visible and extreme end of homelessness. Local agencies estimate that 6,437 people slept rough in London at some point last year. That does not include people staying in hostels, squats, with family and friends or in some other way vulnerably housed.