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Ken Swain’s Story

Ken started vending in Birmingham in February 2015. He is a returning vendor. In October 2016 he was featured in the My Pitch column in The Big Issue:

“At the moment I’m living on a derelict boat in Bedworth that I’m doing up. I’ve got a sleeping bag on there, and a kettle. Each day selling the magazine I have to make £10.30 – to cover my train fare and the £20 a week it costs for mooring. I’m hoping to make enough money to get a little log burner. That should make it just about warm enough to keep the condensation out and make it viable as my permanent home.

I lived on the water a long time ago. When my parents were alive they had a houseboat so I stayed on there with them when I was about 15. I was always in trouble though – always down to drink – and I was in and out of jail. It got too much for my mum to bear, telling the neighbours I was in jail again, so I left home.

Due to The Big Issue, and jail as well, I’ve been off the drink for nearly four years. When I got out of jail I thought, this is going to be hard but I haven’t touched any. It has its bad times when I’m tempted to have just one can but I know that would lead to another can.

I’d sold The Big Issue before but I came back to it at the beginning of this year. When I put out CVs I always say that I’ve sold The Big Issue and so know how to handle money. Selling has also given me people skills. I talk to my customers, I don’t just stand there and shout: “Big Issue, Big Issue.” I heard a few weeks ago that a customer wrote into the magazine to say that I was a complete gent. That’s cool.

I’d love to work on boats one day. I’m trying to learn to make my own rope fender for the front of the boat. I keep watching a guy who can do it and the idea is that maybe in future I could have a go at making and selling them. I’d love to find another spot closer to Birmingham but with mooring costs and without an engine it looks like for the foreseeable future I’m staying in Bedworth.

I love Stephen King, at the moment I’m reading Christine again. I probably know it by heart – but stick with the books you love, that’s what I say. I also like to collect coins. I got my best one last week from a charity shop. It’s a 20p and it’s worth about £30 as it hasn’t got a date on it. But I don’t want to sell it unless I have to”.

Ken has been keen to improve his situation and has taken advantage of the support offered by The Big Issue Foundation. Ken was referred to a GP to get his heart condition looked into and took part in a 12 week gym programme.

In November 2016 Ken was selected to take up a prime pitch inside Birmingham’s busy New Street train station. This was made possible thanks to our wonderful partnership with Network Rail.

A designated pitch on a station concourse provides a vendor with a chance to sell the magazine in an area of consistently high footfall, as well as offering a more sheltered and comfortable working environment. A prime and secure pitch at Network Rail acknowledges vendors’ dedication to their personal micro businesses. Big Issue vendors are visible in day to day station life and offer a warm welcome and an enhanced customer service experience to people arriving in the city of Birmingham.

Ken was chosen to be the first vendor at Birmingham New Street due to how keen he is to look for new opportunities and to develop his personal progress. He demonstrated an aptitude for being successful in his role as a vendor.

We’re very pleased to report that at the end of December Ken was recruited by a local construction company to join a team of workers in the Redditch area. Ken had previous experience of working in construction and whilst vending on the Network Rail pitch he made fresh employment contacts which enabled him to take up a job which suited his skills and abilities. When we caught up with Ken to find out how he is getting on he said things are going well for him and that he is enjoying his new employment within the building trade.

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