Alfie Brew, Co-op, Cowick St, Exeter

Alfie credits The Big Issue with getting him clean, and things are looking up even more for him now he has a lovely home with fiancee Naomi and their three dogs

It’s been good on my pitch recently. It’s been wicked, I really enjoy it. I’ve been doing it for two years and it gets me out there talking to people about my mental health issues. I suffer from bipolar and paranoid schizophrenia, so communicating with people and getting the support from my clients is the reason that I sell the magazine

Christmas on my pitch is fantastic because I’ve got three dogs and everybody loves them. They’re called Bambi, China and Wrinkles. I’ve had Bambi for several months, I’ve had China for a year and Wrinkles is just a puppy so I’ve had him for three months. They help my mental health too. They’re well behaved and having them around helps with everything. 

I’m originally from Worthing in West Sussex, but I came down to Exeter because I had issues back home and I wanted to start afresh. At first I started begging on the street. After eight months I thought, I’ve had enough of this, and that’s when The Big Issue came along and I took my chance at selling it. More people are willing to chat to me when I’m selling the magazine. 

I got put in care when I was younger, and lost my brother back in 2015 to a drug overdose, so I thought I’d come over here to start a new life. I’ve been out of prison for three years now and I’ve been drug free for two years. That’s due to The Big Issue; The Big Issue got me clean. 

In total I had spent eight years on the streets and I kept relying on drugs. I realised I needed to change my life because I nearly died. I thought it was about time I got off them and started a new life. That’s what I’ve done and the community down here is lovely. They support me and when I chat to one of my clients they’ll happily talk to me for 10 minutes and listen to me and make sure I’m OK.  

When I have time off I just relax and take my dogs for a walk. I also help old people and sort out their gardens for them. Just do a bit of handiwork and that. I do it for free to manage my mental health. Gardening’s lovely, it’s like meditation for me. 

I’m in the Christmas campaign video for a homelessness charity in Exeter called St Petrock’s. I did their Christmas appeal last year, but I wasn’t in my Big Issue tabard. This year there weren’t many people wearing one, so I thought I’d mix it up a bit and put mine on and put Bambi in it too. I wanted to do something to pay back to the community. St Petrock’s helped me a lot.

The homeless charities back home were completely different to here. I felt like they didn’t help me and kept fobbing me off, and I just had enough. I’m happier here. My mental health is under control. I’m on the right medication. I haven’t had mental breakdowns for over a year. 

Everyone on the precinct loves me to bits. They love all my dogs, they love my fiancee Naomi. We met when I landed here two years ago and I was in a doorway. It’s going to be our first proper Christmas indoors. Our place is lovely – it’s better than a doorway and it’s better than a tent. It’s somewhere I can go and shut the door and at night time I’ve got nothing to worry about. We’ve been there since 9 August and it was a big moment when I came indoors. It was overwhelming. 

Thank you to all my customers. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your generosity. Have a merry Christmas and a happy new year. 

Interview: Liam Geraghty

Co-op Food - Exeter - Cowick Street, Cowick Street, Saint Thomas, Exeter, UK

The Big Issue

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