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This former Big Issue vendor has opened a shop to help disadvantaged young people access sport

Former Big Issue vendor Ricky Gleeson has turned his life around and now he's opened a sportswear shop in Newcastle

Big Issue vendor Ricky Gleeson

Ricky Gleeson sold The Big Issue magazine as a teenager in Newcastle. Image: Supplied

A former Big Issue vendor who turned his life around has opened a new sportswear shop just yards from where he used to sell the magazine in Newcastle.

Ricky Gleeson, 45, started selling the magazine at the age of 18 after becoming homeless in South Shields and spent 18 months working as a vendor at Newcastle’s Monument Mall.

After he stopped selling the magazine he spent 13 years in the Royal Navy and has now opened vintage sportswear shop Sports Traider in Newcastle city centre.

Gleeson said his spell on the streets and selling The Big Issue continues to impact his life as he works on his new venture.

“I was thrown out when I was 16,” said Gleeson. “I came from a troubled background and that was that. I was either in bed or breakfast or sofa surfing and there was the occasional time where I slept on the street.

“I was homeless until my mid-20s on and off and for a good seven years straight and it is pretty much burned into my DNA even now and I’m 45. I would say that homelessness is the single biggest thing that shaped my career for the rest of my life. 

Ricky Gleeson
Gleeson fell into homelessness at a young age and says his time on the streets has had a huge impact on his life. Image: Supplied

“I used The Big Issue for what it needs to be used for sometimes. I bought the magazine for a price and I sold them for more and that gave me enough money to eat and look after myself for a bit. That shouldn’t be underestimated, it kept me alive.”

After selling The Big Issue, Gleeson travelled around the country and even ended up volunteering in Africa before he joined the Royal Navy at the age of 31.

Sports Traider is a chain of charity shops from across the UK, selling pre-loved sportswear to raise funds for sporting opportunities for children in deprived areas while also supporting young offenders in Gleeson’s native north-east.

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Gleeson will manage the Clayton Street store and is working with organisations across Newcastle to introduce young people into sport.

“Working with underprivileged kids was one of the big things in my life that got me out of the cycle that I was in during my mid-20s,” said Gleeson.

“The shop is going well so far. In the first week I think our Sports Traider was the top selling store in the country so it’s a good omen.

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“It’s been hard work to get to this point but anything worth doing is hard. I haven’t got any experience in this whatsoever but it is going well so far.”

Sports Traider founder Lance Haggith said: “Ricky has done remarkably in helping this project to come to fruition and I am delighted he is heading up our new shop.

“Ricky wholeheartedly embraces all of our aims as a charity and we are very much looking forward to seeing how he takes things forward with the support of others.”

As well as managing the store, Gleeson also runs a podcast called From The Outside Looking In discussing addiction, leaving prison and homelessness with a variety of special guests.

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The podcast started in partnership with former Big Issue vendor Earl John Charlton, who has gone on to work with charity North East Homeless.

The pair grew up together and decided to join forces once again in the last year to record podcast episodes on homelessness.

Gleeson has carried the podcast on, sharing his own personal experiences of addiction and life on the streets as well as interviewing guests about their own experiences..

“We’re the same people now as we were when we were homeless. All that has changed is the circumstances,” said Gleeson. 

“It’s just trying to just try and get across to people that the people you see on the streets: they’re real people.

“I like to talk about it and raise awareness: people have always got a backstory and they’re real human beings. People need to stop being so judgemental.”

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