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Big Issue vendor Ian Duff: ‘I’m heading back to the kitchen’

Bath seller Ian and his dog Boycie are leaving with Ian returning to the kitchen for the first time in 18 years as a chef. The Big Issue is helping him in his new job with chef whites and a bus pass

Every week in The Big Issue magazine, a Big Issue vendor tells their story in our My Pitch column. This week 55-year-old Ian Duff, who sells the magazine at Union Street in Bath, talks about his last day before returning to life as a chef and why that means his beloved pet pointer springer Boycie will be retiring too.

This week was my last week as a Big Issue vendor. I start full-time work on July 7 at The Pack Horse in a place called South Stoke in Bath.

I had a trial the Saturday before and that went really well. I went in and I worked the evening shift, it was pretty cool. I found it a bit weird being back in a commercial kitchen because I hadn’t actually worked in one for 18 years. It was a little bit unusual because I didn’t think I would be doing a shift, I just thought I’d be there observing so I’m glad I went there prepared. I was only on starters so it wasn’t too hectic. But it was good to be there – I felt like I just fit in straightaway. I was really excited to get started but a little bit nervous about getting back into it.

I got a little bit bewildered with the business 18 years ago and went into the pub trade. That was out of the pot and into the fire really. I went into pub management and did that for eight years but even then I was in the kitchen half the time. I didn’t leave because I didn’t want to be a chef anymore. I left because I wanted a career change and to do something different, although that didn’t pan out.

I decided to start later rather than right away because I didn’t want to leave without telling all my regulars that I was going. I obviously told them I’d had interviews before that but I wanted to let everyone know that me and Boycie weren’t going to be there. It was mainly for Boycie’s sake because everyone would have felt like Boycie had died or something.

I think Boycie is one of the main reasons I’m leaving. He’s getting really old now – he’ll be 15 in November – and I don’t think he will last another winter outside. It’s well overdue. He has been selling The Big Issue – it’s not me people come for, it is definitely the dog – for well over 13 years now so it’s time he retired.

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But my customers are absolutely thrilled for Boycie and I. I got the news on the Sunday and I tweeted it out. It’s gone phenomenally, it reached about 18,000 impressions. That’s pretty amazing.

I’m looking forward to getting into menu planning and getting back into the fray. I’ve kept my hand in over the past 10 years [as well as selling The Big Issue, Ian ran the social enterprise Duff Cooks] but to go back in and help a head chef and get a small menu up and running will give me more consistency in life.

I’ll be sad in a lot of ways and I’ll miss all of my customers. I’ll keep in touch with many of them as I still live in Bath. But I’ll miss being out there every day and enjoying the company of the people of Bath. My last day was very good with lots of people coming up to say goodbye to the dog and I. It is a little bit emotional because it is the end of an era for both me and Boycie. But it was a little bit of a relief for me as well because I know I am going into full-time work and have a steady income.

I just want to let everyone in Bath know that me and Boycie really appreciate all the custom and all the help we have had over the last 13 years. I’d like to thank The Big Issue, too, for all the help they have given me and continue to give me. The Big Issue is helping me with some chef whites and a month’s bus pass to get me to my new job so I can get started. It’s all good, it’s very helpful.

I’m still up for writing a food column [Ian kicked off The Big Issue’s regular Vendor Expert feature with a food column that proved a hit with readers during the pandemic]. I can still do them, it’s not a problem!

Ian Duff was speaking to Liam Geraghty

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