I was living in Peterborough and looking after my teenage daughter when I was robbed. This was about 20 years ago, and after it happened I spoke to a lady in a day centre who gave me some Big Issues and a tabard on loan. That’s how I started. For the first couple of days my knees were knocking together as I’d never done any selling before.
I stopped selling for a while and left Peterborough but then I was made homeless for two years. I was on the streets and that’s when selling The Big Issue really came into play. On the streets you feel very vulnerable. In the cities you have to carry absolutely everything with you at all times. You can’t really go to sleep until midnight and you wake up at 4am when you either get moved on or the birds start making noise. In smaller towns like St Neots you have to keep moving around because if you settle in one place you’re targeted. But like one of my customers said to me, we’re all just three mortgage payments away from the situation I was in.
It’s very stressful being homeless, so when I was offered a place I grabbed it.
It’s very stressful being homeless, so when I was offered a place I grabbed it. It’s a maisonette but it’s got two lots of stairs. It’s home but it’s not ideal for me now, 15 years on. I have mobility issues so I would like to move on, not necessarily to a different district but to a different house because I’m getting on now. Even selling The Big Issue my legs get tired quickly.
My children are grown up now and they’ve moved further away. They’ve got their own things going on. But I’ve got my little dog, Buddy. He’s been with me from the word go. He’s a Yorkie-cross and he comes on my pitch with me. Absolutely 100 per cent he’s a comfort to me, he’s an early warning if anything’s wrong. Also it means I’ve got to force myself out of the house every day because he needs a walk. Leaving the house is sometimes hard for me but on the good days once I’ve bitten that bullet and the first customer meets and greets me I feel much more secure.
Just knowing that I’m part of the community, even though I’m not out and about an awful lot, it’s a wonderful thing
I have a terrible problem with memory so I’d like to say sorry to all the customers I’ve called by different names or said, “Hello, you!” My regulars buy me a coffee or a meal deal and it really helps me. Just knowing that I’m part of the community, even though I’m not out and about an awful lot, it’s a wonderful thing. Although people aren’t necessarily alone there are a lot of lonely people out there. I can be chatting to someone for half an hour or longer and it’s not even about buying The Big Issue, it’s just about chatting. I feel I’m giving them something and they’re definitely giving me something in return.
The interaction between the vendor and the customer is really special, it helps homeless people feel part of the community.
The interaction between the vendor and the customer is really special, it helps homeless people feel part of the community. Where I am, the local veggie man has shut his shop after 10 or 15 years. Many people miss him because he was the guy with the free-range eggs, he was the guy you could go to for a handful of this or a handful of that. It’s the same with the sweetie shop. I feel like I’m part of the little people, not the big Tescos or Lidls. But they’re disappearing fast and it’s such a shame.
Bev is on her pitch most afternoons and evenings.
Interview: Sarah Reid
Photo: Hayley PettitWaitrose & Partners, Priory Lane, Saint Neots