Popular Big Issue vendor Richie is facing an operation to have his leg amputated – but insists that the £5,000 fundraiser set up by his local community and regular customers to help him through it is “amazing”.
The veteran vendor, who has sold the magazine for 23 years (most recently outside M&S in Lincoln), reckons that he will be unable to sell the magazine for six to eight weeks after he undergoes the op later this year.
One of his regular customers, Deborah Chester, was so “heartbroken” by Richie’s news that she has set up a Facebook fundraising page to help cover Richie’s costs when he is unable to work on his pitch.
She set up the page on August 29 and kind-hearted customers have leapt to his aid, donating £5,459 so far in 12 days.
Former horticultural engineer Richie told The Big Issue that the gesture was “fantastic” and he is focusing on getting through the operation so he can get a new pet dog following the death of his long-time companion Stix earlier this year.
“It’s amazing. I have some amazing friends and family in Lincoln and I care for them as much as they care for me,” said Richie. “That’s why I come and sell the magazine every day no matter what the weather throws at me.
“It’s just to see my friends to make sure that they’re ok because they do the same for me and they have done for me.
“It’s absolutely amazing. The Big Issue gives me a reason to get up in the morning, to interact with people and build friendships.”
Last year, 27,000 people worldwide earned an income selling street papers, making a total of £23.4 million.
Richie suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that has left him with “seven per cent” of his circulation remaining in his left leg. He is now on the waiting list to have his leg amputated below the knee before Christmas.
That situation touched one of his regular customers Deborah, who had her own brush with homelessness after being caught up in a tornado while living in New Zealand.
She decided to do “what little she could” to help Richie and insists she is stunned with how quickly the local community in Lincoln have rallied around her campaign.
She said: “Over the last 14 months I’ve been in Lincolnshire, I’ve got to say hello to Richie and to take him some food and drink, had a chat with him and that sort of thing.
“I’ve found it heart-breaking to learn that he’s got to have his leg amputated.
“The Big Issue is his life, he loves meeting people and that’s why he is selling The Big Issue.
“We thought that about £500 would be fine to pay some rent for him and in the first 36 hours it had got up to about £3,500, it was just absolutely crazy.
“I’ve told Richard that we have set the crowdfunder up and he is just so humble that he couldn’t believe it. There are so many people in Lincolnshire who love him and want to help.”
I cherish absolutely every one of my friends and customers. It’s overwhelming to know that our friendships go that deep
Now Richie’s goal is to get through the operation and learn to walk again using a prosthetic.
He hopes that this will allow him to get another dog after Stix died five months ago at 15 years old. His pet pooch had been a loyal companion throughout the two decades he spent homeless.
And even after Richie’s friends and customers rallied around to help him secure a one-bedroom flat, Stix was valuable friend when he sold the magazine on his pitch.
The vendor insists that his friendship with the dog helped to “turn his life around” and helped him to conquer the alcohol and drug demons that marked his younger years.
He said: “I don’t know how to put it into words how they change your life for the better. If my leg wasn’t so bad I would get another dog straightaway. As soon as I get my leg sorted and get used to the prosthetic, that’s the first thing on the agenda.
“I’d like to say thank you to absolutely everybody who has supported me and is helping me. I can’t do this on my own. I class my friends as my family, it’s absolutely amazing what they have done. I cherish absolutely every one of my friends and customers. It’s overwhelming to know that our friendships go that deep.”
Richie’s fundraiser can be reached here