Bernie Buxton, 48, Mutley Plain, Plymouth

He's overcome health problems to keep selling the magazine, but Bernie couldn't have done it without the support of his family and his regular customers

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It all started with The Big Issue for me in 1996, and it has been off and on since then. I got a job in McDonald’s, then I got made unemployed again. I came back selling the magazine in 2001 in Ivybridge and Tavistock. I sold until I got another job, had two more children, and then ill health meant I couldn’t work any more. Then I started doing The Big Issue again on Mutley Plain in Plymouth.  

Since then I learned that I had testicular cancer. This is my final year of scans, so if I get the all-clear this year then obviously I’ll be cancer-free. But it’s the support of my customers over the past five years that has kept me sane and my family going. I’ve had a full knee replacement in that time as well. But even through my health problems I was working. I had chemo and two days later I was out working. I didn’t let it hold me back. I kept going. 

That’s what The Big Issue is there for. It’s there to give people the support and the confidence to go out and do these things. That’s what I need people to realise – that’s what it’s done for me. At the moment we are struggling to sell magazines at times, and people need to realise that selling it is helping the people it needs to. 

I’ve got customers who even if I’m away will ask me to keep magazines back for them or send the money for them directly to my bank account until they can pick it up. One customer bought me the card reader before The Big Issue started offering them. She’s bought me a stool to sit down on too. I have a bad knee, a bad back and bad health with asthma and COPD so I can’t stand up constantly. My
customers are there when I need them in emergencies.  

My wife’s trying to start a business as a masseuse at the moment because it helps with what I have as well. She’s my carer, she did it to help me. We’re trying to make everything fall into place. I have four children and will soon have four grandchildren, so I have enough to keep me going. We have an autistic son who lives at home with us too. We have to think of everything – it’s not just my health, it’s everybody. It’s my customers who have kept me going. 

I could have sat at home and just wallowed in self-pity. But I’m going out seeing my customers and cheering them up and their kids with my silly hats on. I’ve got Christmas hats, monkey hats, a green-and-white hat for Plymouth and also because I support Celtic. That’s my thing. That’s what it’s all about. 

I’m originally from the Glasgow area. I was born in Bellshill, but I moved because I was in the foster system for years. My brother lived in Tavistock with his foster family so I came down here. I still have family in Scotland, and I actually lost my dad in the same year when I had my cancer removed so I came up to bury him. It was difficult. It was one of the lowest points of my life. If it wasn’t for my customers who have stuck with my family and me, I would not have got through this. 

It’s the people that come up and say hello, it’s the people that come to buy me a hot chocolate. They’re the ones that make it for me. I have people who come to me to let off steam. That’s fine by me. That’s what I’m there for. Everybody needs someone to talk to. We’ve all been through something in our lives. 

Interview: Liam Geraghty

Mutley Plain, Mutley, Plymouth, UK