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Darren Brown, Sainsbury’s, Wilson Street, Middlesbrough

After a break, Darren is happy to be back on his pitch because customers are happy to see him and everyone stops to have a laugh

It’s been two weeks since I came back to selling The Big Issue and I’m loving it. When I stopped last time, just before the first Covid lockdown, my head was all over the place. Everything was shut and I got sick in my own head. I started drinking heavily. I managed to put a stop to all that and then I bumped into Tracy, who runs the local Big Issue office, so I asked for my job back. Since they’ve put me back in my life has improved drastically. I’m just so happy now.

I can buy a loaf of bread now and stuff like that. I used to hate going to foodbanks and I still have to go on some days when I’m a bit poor, but these last couple of weeks my life’s improved. Everybody who knows me has been saying “Welcome back, welcome back.” It’s been nice to see the people, I missed them all. Everyone knows me because, I think someone said today, they like my charisma. I don’t push the magazine on people, I just stand here and make jokes. I chat to my customers too. That’s the most important thing in my eyes. That’s what I’ve learned over the years. I’d like to say thank you to all of you who  know me personally for standing by me. You’ve all been brilliant.

I sold the magazine in Middlesbrough for about 13 years the first time. Originally I’m from Redcar, which is a few miles up the road, but I’ve lived here since I was in my teens. There’s a good community spirit here and people are friendly. But my lifestyle was always living in tents, homelessness. Where my pitch is now, there’s a church nearby and I used to live behind there for almost three years. Ever since I did The Big Issue last time I’ve always had a place. I’m still in that same place now. It used to be a B&B and it costs me £12 a week. It used to have £19 on top for breakfast but I’ve stopped that now. It’s thanks to The Big Issue that I have it. I don’t want to lose it. 

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Now The Big Issue’s given me an opportunity to have an income myself. I’ve tried to make it a proper job. I come out at 10 and go home at dinner time – I live close to the town so I buy a pasty from the shop because I can cook it cheaper – and then I head back to my pitch until 4pm. If I’ve had an excellent day selling the magazine then I might give myself a day off but I tend not to because I have a good work ethic. I’ve worked all my life.

Away from my pitch I like to read. At the moment I’m reading a book The Beginner’s Guide to Hypnotherapy by Rory Z Fulcher. I have dyslexia so I read things over and over again until I understand it. I got told I was thick because when I was in school there was nowt like dyslexia. I was never a big reader before – it’s only since I got clean. I’ve been off drugs for about 20 years, aside from six months when I had a bit of a relapse over lockdown. It occupies the mind when I’m at home. I like my own company, I’m a bit of a loner.

My ambition now is to learn computers. I’m not into the internet and I’ve only got a bog-standard phone, but I’d like to learn how to use them properly. I can’t afford one but I’d like to own one so I can figure it out and learn it. I learn by playing about with things. The Big Issue has been the best thing since sliced bread for me. I was here for a long time and I’m glad I’m back. I just love it. I feel wanted again. I’ve got a cheesy grin on my face, and I can’t get rid of it.

Interview: Liam Geraghty 

Sainsbury's, Wilson Street, Middlesbrough, UK