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Popular Big Issue vendor voluntarily gave up flat during Covid-19 lockdown

Gary Phillips chose to leave his rented property after the pandemic slashed his income and left him behind on rent. Now his regulars have raised £1,500 to help him leave life in a tent behind

Gary Phillps Saltburn

Selfless Saltburn Big Issue vendor Gary Phillips left his rented bedsit voluntarily during the Covid-19 pandemic to live in a tent because he was worried about the impact on his landlord’s finances as he struggled to pay rent.

During the coronavirus national lockdown, The Big Issue supported 1,665 vendors with more than £500,000 in food vouchers, meter top-ups and other help while we were temporarily forced to halt street sales to protect vendors.

We gave Gary shopping vouchers and cash payments regularly until his return to the streets on July 6 but this wasn’t enough.

It was a bit of a shock to end up back in a tent

And the 45 year old chose to leave the rented property that he had called home for the last 14 months in early July after falling two and a half months behind on rent when he was forced to stop selling The Big Issue magazine.

Gary’s decision meant a return to life sleeping in a tent – something he has previously done in stays in Brighton, Bournemouth and Worcester before being housed more than 15 years ago.

The stunning gesture has seen his customers rally around him in recent weeks by boosting his sales and raising more than £1,500 to help him off the streets.

Much-loved vendor Gary said: “It became difficult to pay rent so I spoke to my landlord and said that I was going to leave. I’d lived there for 14 months, moving to Saltburn to be closer to my pitch for a fresh start but Covid-19 has made that go tits up.

“I was two and a half months behind on rent at that time and I couldn’t sell the magazine, so it was only fair to my landlord that I left as they have bills to pay too. Some landlords are relying on that money too. It was my choice.

“The Big Issue also helped me with money and vouchers during lockdown. I was very lucky to have that and I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t expect them to pay my rent either.

“It was a bit of a shock to end up back in a tent and it has been quite difficult because it has been raining a lot in recent weeks.”

The dramatic change in circumstances has mobilised Gary’s customers, with mother and daughter pair Sue and Corinna Nicol starting a GoFundMe campaign that has raised £1,520 to pay a deposit and a month’s rent on a new home for Gary. The popular vendor also said that the community in Saltburn has supported him with sales “like Christmas”.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Gary, who has sold The Big Issue magazine since 1993. “I’m greatly overwhelmed by the support from this town.

“I was expecting £100 or so because I’m a nice person round here and I’m well known in town but over £1,000 is just amazing.”

Loyal customer Sue told The Big Issue that she was not surprised by the community effort to help Gary.

She is now helping Gary find a new place to live, a search which she insisted was “difficult because not a lot of people want to rent to a homeless person”.

“The rain inspired it,” she said.

“I was sitting at home and it was pouring with rain outside. I was thinking about Gary and how it must be affecting him and how we’ve got freezing weather to come. He could die. It’s just terrible.

“It shouldn’t have to be done but I wanted to help Gary. The response is what we expected because Saltburn is a wonderful place with supportive and thoughtful people.”

The Big Issue has been fighting tirelessly to prevent homelessness during the pandemic through our Ride Out Recession Alliance and opposed the end of the evictions ban last month before the government U-turn that extended the deadline by a month.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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