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Big Issue vendor Sean McAvoy: ‘I’ve just been offered two jobs’

It’s time for Sean to move on from The Big Issue to write a new chapter in his amazing life story

Every week in The Big Issue magazine, a Big Issue vendor tells their story in our My Pitch column. This week 62-year old Sean McAvoy, who normally sells the magazine at Central Station in Exeter, talks about his last day selling the mag before he moves on to pastures new. 

As it’s my last day on my Big Issue pitch I’m selling in a three-piece suit with my tabard on top. I’ve just been offered two jobs – both of them as a result of being a vendor here. One of my customers works for a double glazing firm called DG Solutions. She said they were recruiting and was I interested?

Then the day before the interview, Yusef, who’s the manager at Pie Minister by my pitch, offered me a job with him. I went to the double glazing interview and the first thing I said was, “I’ve been offered a job.” But they said I could work with them part-time, around the Pie Minister job. I said, happy days.

At Pie Minister I’ll be in the kitchen and in the front of shop because everyone mucks in, and at DG Solutions I’ll be canvassing, knocking on doors and asking people if they’d like a survey. They approached me because of my selling skills and the way I communicate with people. I’m very articulate, I’m well educated and I’ve been around the world a couple of times. 

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I left school and joined the Royal Air Force for 10 years on search and rescue helicopters. I wasn’t a pilot – I was the guy they used to chuck out to rescue people. Best job in the world, better than being Father Christmas. Everybody’s so happy to see you.

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The scariest rescue I ever did was on a container ship that broke in half. The Royal Navy went in and rescued part of the crew and we went in to collect the rest. There were these big waves smashing all over the place. I turned to the winchman and said, I’m going to die today. In typical Forces humour he said, if you do can I have your motorbike? But I didn’t die, I rescued seven people. Over the 10 years I rescued 136, and I remember them all.

My Pitch 1467
Sean dressed up for the last day on his pitch. Photo: Andrew Butler

This has been my second time selling The Big Issue. I originally got badged up in 2005 in Colchester and I sold it for three and a half years until I got a job. Then I got into a relationship, moved to Wales and was there for a couple of years until I went back home to Ireland. But I got into the habit of gambling and messed it all up again. It was always a case of, the money went in the bank and it just did not cover what I owed.

I went back to Colchester, but in the 10 years I’d been away it had changed and I had to get away. I’d lived in Cornwall before so I looked for places in the South West that were good at looking after homeless people and Exeter came out on top. I was living in a tent by the M5 away from civilisation because that’s the safest place to be. Sarah from The Big Issue office and the charity St Petrocs got on to the council and I got into temporary accommodation and six weeks ago I got into a flat.

I moved in on May 4 and at half past six everything was unpacked, everything was assembled, everything was in its place. And I sat down in an armchair with a cup of coffee and a bit of Eric Clapton playing and I just burst into tears. I’m close to tears now just thinking about it, you know. It had been a journey and I was just sitting there thinking, this is mine. It’s a good feeling.

I’ve always been a strong person but at the moment I’m ecstatically happy. Anyone who knows me will tell you I can be having the worst day going but I always have a smile on my face. I’d like to thank everyone here for your kind support and friendliness. I couldn’t have done it without you. The Big Issue does change people’s lives. I’ll see what way the wind blows but these jobs will be a totally new experience for me. I’m competitive, but with myself. Can I do this? And once I can do it, how good am I? But I will test myself and see how it goes. The world is now my oyster.

Sean was speaking to Sarah Reid

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