Chris Clarke, 54, Outside Greggs, Cheltenham High Street

I went to school in South Africa because my parents wanted me to leave high school with an internationally recognised qualification. Unfortunately this was during the apartheid era. After five years I became a permanent citizen, which meant I was eligible for military service, and I was faced with either joining up or facing a significant prison sentence.

This kickstarted the next 30 years of my life, and then a very unfortunate incident left me with no legs just before my retirement from
the army.

One leg was blown off straight away and efforts to save the other one ultimately failed. It was amputated at Cheltenham Hospital at Easter 2015.

I still find it very difficult to look back on. It’s caused me a huge amount of mental health problems, which is difficult for someone of my background and intelligence level – well, at least I’m told I’m intelligent! 

My concentration goes at times. I need prompts to remind me where we are. 

When I resigned from the army – which I had to do after my injury – there were only six months until my retirement date. 

One of the better decisions I made was putting my compensation money in a trust fund which doesn’t mature until 2022. My pension, which is a pittance by military standards, all gets paid into the fund.

I returned to my family roots in Stow-on-the-Wold in the North Cotswolds. That got me involved in starting to get benefits from Gloucestershire County Council and took me out of the closed circle that is private corporate intelligence.

As well as dealing with my own physical and mental health problems, my mother was suffering from vascular dementia and needed help, so the best way was to find a situation I could commit myself to five or six days a week, where I could earn an income as well as being able to be close to my mum and care for her. The Big Issue was the answer. It earns me a fair income – even if it won’t make me rich – so long as I keep working hard. Sadly, though, my mum passed away before Christmas 2016.

Because of my career, I’ve remained pretty good at early rising. I get up between 4am and 5am and I catch the first bus every day, usually making it to my pitch by about 7.30am.

I have a range of customers which includes everyone from university professors to people with PhDs in esoteric subjects such as astronomy and micro-electronics.

I get a huge amount of enjoyment out of selling The Big Issue. It used to be that if I didn’t make a certain amount of money I wouldn’t
be happy. Now I have an established clientele – I know who’s getting to see me, and something that started because of financial motivation has become hugely motivating socially.

If it wasn’t for The Big Issue my mental health would have tumbled out of control.

Image: Craig Ballinger

219 High St, Cheltenham GL50 3HH, UK