Ann Warke, 53, Catherine St, Exeter

"I've started again and I haven't looked back"

lost my job last August and had to go on to Universal Credit. In the eight weeks that it took them to sort everything out my life completely spiralled out of control. I went into debt and I nearly lost my flat. In a matter of weeks my whole life went into the gutter. I couldn’t eat, there was no money. I had to borrow off family and friends, but you can’t do that for ever.

One of my best friends was doing The Big Issue in Newton Abbot and he was helping me out, bringing food over for me. He told me about the magazine but because I’m really shy I was scared to death at first. I have anxiety so I don’t really like being in a public space. It can be frightening because people do look down on you.

It’s not that I’m not concerned about money, I’m just not at my wits’ end any more

I was astounded really, people don’t know that every vendor who’s out there selling The Big Issue has a story, so why would anybody look down on you when you’re already down? But to counteract that I started meeting all the other vendors, who are absolutely fabulous and some of the best people in the world. I’m so proud to be a Big Issue seller and all the other customers are such lovely people. It’s all these things mixed into one, all these emotions.

I’ve got four children, they’re grown up now and they all live far away. I would never ever have told them the dilemma I was in, I wouldn’t ever want my kids to worry about that kind of thing. After it all passed I let them know and they’re proud as punch of me. Usually if we can we’ll try to get together at Christmas time but if not we’re always in touch on the phone.

Getting an eviction notice takes you to a place where you don’t want to go

I volunteer as a stablehand at the mare and foal sanctuary at Honeysuckle Farm in Newton Abbot. I used to be a groom when I was a young girl so I’m devoting one day a week to doing that because it’s something I absolutely adore. It really helps with my anxiety as well.

Before I lost my job last year I was a retail assistant, but I’ve done all sorts. What I’m doing now every day, getting out and meeting people, is doing me the world of good at the minute. When I nearly lost everything my anxiety went through the roof. Getting an eviction notice takes you to a place where you don’t want to go. But by the skin of my teeth I’ve managed to hold on to my home. I’m in arrears but I can manage it. I’ve started again and I haven’t looked back really. It’s not that I’m not concerned about it, I’m just not at my wits’ end any more.

About Me…

Shore thing

I worked as a fisherwoman when I lived in Dartmouth. I did crab and lobster fishing on the coast – another adventure I didn’t expect

If I won the lottery

I’d take every single Big Issue vendor out for a great big dinner and take them all on holiday. I don’t have anything but utter and complete respect for vendors.

I’m on my pitch 9:30am until 12:30pm every day

Interview: Sarah Reid

Photo: Andrew Butler

Catherine St, Exeter EX1 1EU, UK