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How Norwich vendor Jim Hannah bear mascot connects him with his customers

Manuel, a teddy bear knitted for Jim by one of his customers, spends every day on Jim’s tabard except when customers take him on their holidays. It’s a small but vital connection that helps keep Jim sober

For Norwich vendor Jim Hannah, the lockdown that took him away from his customers has been particularly hard to bear.

The Scot, originally from Hamilton, started selling the magazine eight years ago as part of his efforts to give up drinking. He is now eight years sober and he puts that down to working on his Dove Street pitch and the unique relationship that he shares with his customers.

That’s typified by Manuel, a Big-Issue-tabard-wearing teddy bear knitted for Jim by one of his customers who now takes pride of place as the vendor’s mascot, perched on his tabard.

Customers take turns to take the bear, named after the Fawlty Towers played by Andrew Sachs, on holiday and share souvenir snaps with Jim, 61.

Vendor Jim said: “It’s important to me. This is what The Big Issue is all about for me – the communication. It’s the main reason why I started selling the magazine when I sobered up. I’d been stuck in my shell while I was drinking and when I sobered up I was quiet. But doing this job you have no other choice but to talk to people.

“I’m eight years sober now and the job has kept me sober. When I stopped drinking I wanted something to occupy my mind and this has done it.”

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Manuel certainly gets in a few hairy situations on his hols. Sharon and Geoff Bareham were joined by Manuel for their trip to Monte Gordo on The Algarve where they shared shots of the bear at the bar and on the beach.

Sharon tells The Big Issue: “Jim’s built up a really big client base and it is part of him now, it’s something we’re all used to seeing Manuel. For the lady to crochet and knit the bear for him just shows how much the people he has built up a relationship with care about him.”

Danny Adams would agree. The Salvation Army worker took Manuel with him to Rome where the bear visited The Colosseum. “Jim’s absolutely brilliant, he’s built up a rapport with everyone he meets and the fact that someone wanted to knit him a bear in the first place says it all.”

Jim was so chuffed with his customers’ efforts that he enlisted their help to create a calendar for Barbara to say thank you.

And the banter about Manuel has given Jim a unique relationship with his customers that has helped keep him sober.

Jim said: “It sounds stupid but it all started for laugh. And it’s nice when people do wee stupid things like that.”

Images: Danny Adams/Geoff and Sharon Bareham

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