Big Issue vendor Craig O’Shea in Truro Photo: Laura Harris
Back in April, Big Issue vendor Craig O’Shea from Truro in Cornwall refused the chance to turn his back on sleeping in a tent to stay in a caravan in Newquay.
The Mancunian insisted he didn’t trust services and felt safer outdoors away from people, even if it meant staying exposed to the elements in his own camp.
Around four months later, at the end of August, Craig moved into his own flat and set about restarting his bicycle repair business. It has been a whirlwind, remarkable transformation, with the added irony that it would not have been possible without the Covid-19 pandemic.
Follow your dreams. That is what I’m doing and they are slowly coming true
Craig was brought off the street by the Everyone In response to the virus. Through the help of The Big Issue, Cornwall Housing, the local authority and homelessness charity St Petrocs, the 34-year-old is now “living the dream”.
“I feel on top of the world,” Craig tells The Big Issue from his new flat. “I feel like I’ve finally landed on my feet and it’s time to prove to everyone that what happened in the past deserves to stay there. I feel like I’ve been told in the past that I can’t do it but watch this space people, I’m coming.”
Craig moved to Cornwall in May last year after resolving to make a fresh start and “leave his troubles behind”. He slept rough in St Ives and St Austell before settling in Truro and started selling the magazine on his pitch outside Mallets hardware store in the Cornish city just weeks ahead of lockdown.
While he was unable to sell the magazine on his pitch as The Big Issue was forced to halt street sales during lockdown, Craig was supported with cash payments and shopping vouchers, as the majority of Big Issue vendors were. He passed the time by learning to play guitar and busking with the one tune he knew, as well as repairing bikes at his tent.
Craig rejected outreach workers’ suggestions of a caravan in Newquay, but by June had managed to build up a rapport with staff at Cornwall Housing and decided to make the move to Carrick Cabins – 11 temporary pod homes in the Carrick House car park in Truro. The joint venture between Cornwall Housing and St Petrocs gave Craig the chance to come in off the street, get a roof over his head and space to cook and clean.
But symbolically it represented Craig’s newfound trust in services. And he is reaping the benefits of his fresh outlook on life. On August 28 he moved into his own flat and is now taking on business management courses to help him make a success of his bicycle repair firm.
Craig had started the business up in Manchester but was forced to leave behind all his equipment when he was evicted from his home. Now he is starting up O’Shea Bicycle Repairs in Truro and dreams of making it a success.
“It was hard to adapt to a flat after being on the streets for eight years,” he says. “The support makes a difference because I’ve come in off the streets before and it has not worked out without it, that’s what happened in Manchester.
“That support has continued while I’m in my flat, helping me to get my business up and running and pay my bills, helping me understand letters. I’ve still got that support there and if I’m short on finances they have a bit of money to sort me out that way.”
The Big Issue makes me feel that my life is worth living again
The key piece in the puzzle for Craig is a stable home. The coronavirus crisis has affected people differently at all levels of society but, in Craig’s case, it has seen him go from the streets into an optimistic new life.
And The Big Issue is helping him build on his short-term successes, giving him the confidence and connections to lift himself out of poverty.
“I think the Covid-19 pandemic helped me move forward with my life,” said Craig. “I would say to anyone who is in the same position I was – ‘never say never’. Follow your dreams. That is what I’m doing and they are slowly coming true.
“I’m getting things slotted into place in my life, it helped getting back into the routine with selling the magazine before the new lockdown.
“The Big Issue is a good thing for me. It stops me sitting in my flat and stops me feeling miserable and depressed. It makes me feel that my life is worth living again. Every single day I open my eyes in this flat my life is getting better and better.”
Big Issue vendors need your help now more than ever. More than 1,000 vendors are out of work because of the second lockdown in England. They can’t sell the magazine and they can’t rely on the income they need.
The Big Issue is helping our vendors with supermarket vouchers and gift payments but we need your help to do that.
Give your vendor a hand up and buy the magazine. Big Issue vendors are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. But, at the same time, they are micro-entrepreneurs. By supporting their business, you can help them overcome homelessness, financial instability and other social disadvantages that hold them back.