The Big Issue has been helping vendors throughout the Covid-19 lockdown. That’s thanks to readers who have gone on supporting us even though we weren’t selling on the street and those of us who aren’t safe to go back to work yet. That includes a fund we could apply to if there was something that would really help us during lockdown.
I asked The Big Issue for either a Gaelic language coursebook or a few art materials so that I could work with watercolours during self-isolation. I know that both those things are incredibly healing and enriching in my life.
The problem was that I didn’t really know where to start in terms of what materials to get. I remembered I’d met an artist, Michelle Cohen, when she was exhibiting work in an art shop so I decided to call her out of the blue and ask for some guidance. She put a call out through her Art On Scotland network then rang me to say she’d had offers of enough art materials to last a lifetime.
She brought me these things and, knowing I wanted to study Gaelic, she bought me a coursebook – which I couldn’t have even afforded at the best of times because it included CDs. Eventually she managed to get an old-fashioned Walkman for me as well.
All of this has made an incredible difference. The watercolour painting is a very joyful thing for me to do, even though I’m a beginner. I’m working on flower paintings at the moment but I have lots of ideas about images of life in Glasgow that I want to express through painting. You can heal in lots of different ways, and for me it’s art. That’s why it means so much to me and why it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Before lockdown I was extremely ill with pneumonia. Then when I recovered my landlord moved me into a different room that was affordable and where I could stay safely as long as I needed to. That gave me a safety that I’ve not had for more than six years.
Lockdown was difficult, none of us had time to prepare. But it gave me an opportunity to find myself after a lot of trauma. Being homeless long-term, it carries strain. A lot of people can’t get that if you’re homeless it isn’t actually that you’ve done something wrong. People don’t get that authorities can be wrong and actually they often are. All of us have a story.
I applied to be rehoused in England as that’s where my daughter and her family are but that fell through. Learning Gaelic means more to me than just the language – it really helps me feel that Glasgow and Scotland is my home now. It’s a sense of belonging, knowing that Gaelic is interwoven in Glasgow’s history.
My 66th birthday was on June 26, the day of the refugee tragedy in Glasgow [six were stabbed at a hotel in the city were asylum seekers were being housed]. It made me think a lot about what people go through not just becoming homeless but being uprooted from their homes by violence. Everyone deserves that same depth of kindness that has helped me survive.
It’s something I see when selling The Big Issue. People don’t look at you making the same judgement, thinking you deserve to be homeless. You observe a certain compassion and that’s what’s going to transform society after lockdown. And I feel the potential for that so strongly in Glasgow. There’s something very profound about the atmosphere in this city, possibly because there is so much poverty. But there’s this massive response of love and kindness that’s so much more powerful than any tragedy. You could see that in Glasgow’s mutual aid efforts, the way everyone pulled together during lockdown.
In the end, we didn’t need that fund. I want to thank Michelle and the Big Issue staff as well as the readership. I was given everything I needed and more through people who became aware of my situation because I am a Big Issue vendor.