Lee Barnes, age 32, Sainsbury's, Shirley High Street, Southampton
This Friday, it will be nine weeks since I last had a drink. When I left home at 17, I didn’t want to work or go to college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had quite a hard life, in and out of hostels. That’s when I got into the beer.
I started selling The Big Issue about seven years ago and did it for nearly a year until I got a job at Southampton Grosvenor Casino. I was a croupier for 18 months, working from 9pm to 5am. Drink drew me back and I walked out before they had a chance to sack me.
I sell on average 50 magazines a week. I’m self-employed on the Issue. I don’t claim any Job Seeker’s Allowance and I get working tax credits. I have to do a tax return at the end of each year.
I have loads of regulars. I think the reason I’m still doing it now is that there is so much job satisfaction. People come by and you put a smile on their face. I try to get my personality out there. If people want to stop and chat, then it’s all good.
Eve’s daughter’s son [Eve runs Sainsbury’s kitchen] just invited me to his 10th birthday party. That’s the first time I’ve been invited to a birthday party for about 13 years – not many people want an alcoholic at a birthday party. I’ve been in a council flat for almost two years. It’s thanks to The Big Issue that I actually got into housing.
A Big Issue outreach worker said to me: “Lee, you’ve got your head screwed on, get down to the housing place and get yourself on the home bid.” I’m going to stay in Southampton for a bit. It’s so cosmopolitan; everyone accepts each other for how they are.
There’s racism – you get that everywhere – but here it’s nothing compared to where I’m from. In Luton the racism is rife, but in Southampton you can say hello to everyone and no one judges you.
I speak to my family every Sunday. My Father’s Day card was sorted, but I wanted to send him something as well. I had the week to earn enough to buy something half-decent. Cufflinks, are they a bit cheesy?
Jimmy ‘The Whirlwind’ White [the former ‘people’s favourite’ snooker player] shops here. You see him once every two weeks or so. He’s a nice enough geezer.
Interview by Sally Brammall
Photo: Paul Underhill