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For vendor Robin Price, a return to his pitch is more important than ever

The Weston-super-Mare seller lost his mother during lockdown, he tells The Big Issue what it means to reconnect with his customers this week

Robin Price trains Heidi Burton

Weston-super-Mare vendor Robin Price with his train set.

All Big Issue vendors will have faced challenges during lockdown but none more so than Robin Price. Robin, based in Weston-super-Mare, was the first vendor The Big Issue spoke to after we took the tough decision to stop selling the magazine on the streets. Back then in March he accurately predicted he’d be off his pitch for three months.

In that time, as well as adjusting to his new normal of being at home all day, he also lost his mother.

“I was in touch with her at the beginning of May, I rang her up and asked if she was alright and if she needed anything,” Robin said. “Knowing full well she’d say no, which she did. Then in June I got a phone call to say that she was dead.”

I don’t understand my own feelings at the moment. I feel very, very contradicted and guilty

Having left his mother aged nine to be brought up in care, Robin’s feelings are now conflicted.

“I didn’t really see her much so I don’t understand my own feelings at the moment. I feel very, very contradicted and guilty,” he said. “I could have gone straight back on the drink but I didn’t, which is pretty cool. I’ve not touched a drop throughout the whole thing.”

So getting back to his old pitch outside The Coffee House in Weston’s high street this week is more important to Robin than ever.

“I’ve got the Italian Gardens behind me, and the beach, so customers can be as far away as they want,” he said. “I’ve spent a couple of days down there, not selling, but I’ve had a couple of coffees. I’ve seen some familiar faces and a couple of the oldies as well, which made my day. At least I know they’re there. Not for the sales, purely because I like them.”

It’s regaining that contact with his customers that Robin says he’s most looking forward to this week.

“I’ll be getting to know all the gossip, finding out what people have been doing,” he said. “I won’t let them go past me without saying, ‘Come on, you’ve got to have gossip – it’s been three months!’ Weston’s only a small place, it’s not like London, so I won’t have to build it up again.

“When The Coffee House opened for takeaway a couple of weeks ago I went into town and supported them on their first day back. I had about 10 of my customers come up and speak to me.”

And with no income from magazine sales, when Robin’s fridge-freezer packed in during lockdown The Big Issue was there to help him out and organise a new one.

“I’ve had a laptop as well. After my mum died Kirsten in The Big Issue office asked how I was doing. My computer had gone on the blink and I was actually fixing it at the time, but she said, ‘Would you like a laptop?’ And literally within a week it came through the door.

“I’ve also had support from my followers online. Straight away they were saying, ‘Keep your chin up, we know that you live for The Big Issue.’

“There’s a bloke called Cliff in the Bournemouth Big Issue office and he’s been a diamond. Like me, he’s into trains so he’s been sending me some of his old railway pictures from when he used to be a driver. We’re even thinking about doing a sponsored walk along the old Somerset and Dorset railway line to give something back to The Big Issue Foundation.

“We’ll start off at the Bath office and finish up at the Bournemouth office.”

But for now, Robin said it’s enough just to be back on his pitch. “What have I missed most? My customers, being outdoors, having my own kind of freedom first thing in the morning,” he said. “With the lockdown me and my missus have been under each other’s feet quite a lot but when I go out to work she has her own bit of time and I have my own bit of time.”

Image: Heidi Burton

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