Bob Sheppard, Co-op, High Kingsdown, Bristol

Bob has been selling the magazine since 1994, and he's currently saving up to go and visit his new granddaughter

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I think I was the fifth vendor in Bristol when I started selling the magazine in 1994. I’m a former soldier and I used to be a single parent and things got a little bit out of hand drugs-wise. I had to put my son into voluntary foster care. It was painful and still is, even now. I couldn’t live in my house anymore because it was like living with a ghost. I also felt guilty because the only thing I could do to make money was begging. The Big Issue came along, which is obviously better than begging, so that’s why I started selling the magazine.  

The magazine was a lot cheaper back then. I think I was paying less than 40p per issue and selling it for 70p, though lots of people would buy it for a quid. It seemed like there were a lot more vendors and a lot more people willing to buy the magazine. And a lot more people begging as well. I think it’s a bit wrong when someone is begging on my pitch. I’d rather go somewhere else because it’s not fair on the punters. The decision of do you give the beggar money or The Big Issue seller money? It’s not good. 

I’m actually doing quite well on my pitch at the moment. But it’s not without its challenges. I’ve got bad sciatica, but I can’t take pain relief because they’re addictive. If I could give any advice to younger Bob, it would be to avoid drugs. They don’t work, they’re useless. The only result from drugs is pain. I’m getting a seat arranged so I can sit on my pitch and still sell the magazine. 

I was mugged recently. In fact, I’ve been mugged a few times while selling the magazine. Just recently some kids nicked my bag and threw it in the lake – my magazines were all wrecked. It also annoys me the amount of people that still tell me to get myself a job. It is a job. You are doing something, it’s a hand up, not a hand out. We’re not trying to rip anybody off. 

At the moment I’m trying to save up for a couple of things. Firstly,  my boy has just had a baby. She’s my first grandchild, so I’m trying to save to get up to Mansfield to see her. She’s about five months old now and as I was a single parent it is a big thing to me. I have a good relationship with my son, every Christmas he drives down to Bristol to pick me up and I stay there for a week and then he drives me back. 

I’m also trying to make the place where I live nice and liveable. I moved into over-50s accommodation a couple of months ago after living in a hostel before that. I’ve only just got furniture and got myself a TV so hopefully I can get some nice rugs and stuff like that. 

I love selling the magazine. It helps my mental health totally. Just getting out and meeting people, smiling. I’ve actually saved two people who may have been thinking about committing suicide. It’s hard for some people who don’t have anyone to talk to but a Big Issue seller doesn’t know anybody so they can talk to them. There are lots of things like that. I remember another time when I made an old lady cry just before Christmas. I bought her a Christmas card and she doesn’t see her kids. She was so happy she started crying. I might be 63 but I’ll be selling the magazine as long as I can. 

I’m passionate about preventing climate change too. We’ve got to get a hold of that. I have a granddaughter and what kind of life has she got to look forward to? I think it’s unfair for us to ignore it all and let them deal with it in the end. 

Interview: Liam Geraghty

Co-op Food - High Kingsdown, Clarence Place, High Kingsdown, Bristol, UK