We’re helping speed-reading vendor Jack get more books to read in lockdown

The Bristol seller relies on reading to help with his mental health and has read through all of his 150 books. So we’re giving him book vouchers to get more

We’re working hard to support vendors throughout the Covid-19 lockdown after we were forced to temporarily halt them from selling on the streets for their own safety.

That has meant ensuring they have supermarket vouchers to buy food or cash to cover utility bills – but it is also means meeting needs that affect their wellbeing.

For Bristol vendor Jack Richardson that need was for more books.

The 42-year-old, who has ADHD and Asperger’s, dives into reading to combat depression and the speed at which he goes through books is remarkable – he reckons he’s read all of the 150 books he owns while in lockdown, some for the sixth time.

Reading is an escape for me and it is almost compulsive

As well as helping Jack with weekly vouchers, we recognised that he needed help to keep him reading. We gave him a £30 voucher to top up his collection so he can stay in good spirits while self-isolating.

“The book voucher is a very big help for me,” said Jack, who is a big fan of Warhammer 40K, Terry Pratchett and sci-fi and fantasy books. “I read faster than most people I meet and I can get through three or four books a day, my depression while in lockdown responds very well to burying my head in a book.

“Reading is an escape for me and it is almost compulsive. When I was homeless I used to spend a lot of time in the library and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve read through a sci-fi and fantasy section.

“A voucher will go a long way, I’m very good at shopping on a budget and you can find the books for cheap.”

Jack hit the headlines in 2016 when he married one of his customers, Toni. The pair fell in love after Jack helped Toni with an energy bill.

He insists that having Toni around while he is unable to sell the magazine has helped “keep him sane” and that the pair “function well as a unit”.

DID YOU KNOW…

If you pay for the magazine you should always take it. Vendors are working for a hand up, not a handout.

Jack’s also had plenty of support from customers while in lockdown – with one helping him with electricity payments while another passed on a food parcel for him and Toni.

But despite his support network rallying around him while he is unable to sell the magazine, Jack is still eyeing a return to his pitch at Bird and Blend Tea in Bristol.

“It’s doing my head in. I didn’t realise how much I missed being out there and being around people that much propped up my mental health,” he added. “It’s been corrosive not having that. I miss not having the security of knowing that if I am short of money, all I have to do is stand there and work more hours and I’m okay.

“I miss all my wonderful customers. They have kept my body and my sanity together for the last five years and I miss them incredibly and can’t wait to get back to them. They are a big part of my life – I am constantly humbled by their generosity. Selling The Big Issue restores your faith in humanity in some ways.”

My customers have kept my body and my sanity together for the last five years and I miss them incredibly and can’t wait to get back to them

We can only continue to support vendors like Jack through the current coronavirus crisis with your help. You can give vendors a hand-up by subscribing to the magazine to receive it directly to your door or device. Head to bigissue.com/subscribe for details.

For the first time ever, you can also get your Big Issue magazine from shops with Sainsbury’s, McColl’s and Co-op all carrying copies as well as our own Big Issue Shop.

We have also launched an app (with the help of Joe Wicks). It’s free to download from the App Store or on Google Play and you can buy one-off magazines or subscribe to read straight from your phone.

As ever, 50 per cent of the net proceeds will go to vendors.

Image: Frankie Stone