Jim Pelham is missing his Salisbury pitch while he is in lockdown after becoming such a treasured member of the community.
The popular Big Issue vendor has lived in the cathedral city almost all his life and sold the magazine there for eight years after becoming homeless when his spell as medical secretary at Salisbury District Hospital – where he also lived – came to an acrimonious end.
Since then, The Big Issue has helped Jim become a famous face on the streets, known for selling the magazine in Salisbury’s market square while dancing to a ripped CD of violin music by Kate Chruscicka.
But the Covid-19 pandemic has meant he has been off his pitch since March and unable to spend time in the city – he has been living 10 miles up the road in a village called Winterbourne Stoke.
“I’m living entirely on other people’s kindness I’m afraid,” Jim, 42, told The Big Issue. “I’ve been a reading a great deal and learning to cook.
“The Big Issue have been enormous help altogether, they’ve been very proactive in looking after me. And now I’ve got a claim in I should hopefully have better luck talking to the council about accommodation because I haven’t found them very helpful at the moment.
“It’s been surreal and quiet in lockdown. I grew up thinking that I was a loner but actually I’m just one of those people who needs others to see how terribly well he is doing on his own. Humans are extremely social animals and it is the social interaction that I actually live off. The Salisbury market square must feel so empty without me!
“I see everything that’s going on in Salisbury, pretty much. My pitch gives me a nice opportunity to meet everyone because people get so caught up in the hierarchies. I like to step up to people as an outsider but people definitely make me feel part of the community.”
Jim’s powerful connection to his customers has been evident in the messages that The Big Issue has received for him. He will feature in an upcoming episode of our Big Miss You podcast where we hear how he has helped regular customer Samantha Lane.
If you pay for the magazine you should always take it. Vendors are working for a hand up, not a handout.
The Big Issue has played a huge role in helping him build those relationships, particularly in the wake of his split from the hospital.
“Selling The Big Issue gives me the chance to grasp a nettle and stand up in my community and look people in the eye,” he said.
“I’d like to give my customers my love and let them know not to worry about me.”
The Big Issue also spoke to Jim at a time when he is not the only one focusing on Salisbury.
Humans are extremely social animals and it is the social interaction that I actually live off
The BBC drama The Salisbury Poisonings looks back at the news story of 2018 when a nerve agent called Novichok was used to poison former Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, causing a public health emergency that resulted in the death of Dawn Sturgess, a homeless woman in the city.
Jim added: “Across Salisbury there has been a ‘don’t mention the Novichok’ sort of approach because it completely killed shopping and tourism for a while and that’s entirely what we live on.
“We had almost the entire country’s police force here for months guarding empty fields and benches. It’s very odd. If it wasn’t for all of this with Covid-19 then I think there would have been trepidation because people had never heard of the place before and only connected it with Russian death squads. The Covid-19 crisis has taken everyone’s attention now so we can talk about it I guess.
“Salisbury’s a good place – technically a city but now basically more of a village. It’s a nice place to visit. It’s absolutely beautiful.”