Elena Firica, 50, Sainsbury’s, Gloucester Road, Bristol

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I came to England four years ago because my children were living and working here. I have four kids and five grandchildren and there was no point in being in Romania if all of them are over here. 

When I first arrived here I only knew a little English and it was very difficult to find a job. I was in Manchester and someone told me about the possibility of being a vendor selling The Big Issue. 

I still remember my first day. I picked a pitch in the city centre in Bristol, close to the Big Issue office, because I didn’t really know the place and I was terrified of getting lost. I managed to make around £30, which I’m told is a lot for a first day. People in the office were really surprised with my performance and I was really pleased. 

As well as selling The Big Issue, I also have a job washing dishes in a restaurant. They just call me when they need me, but the extra money really helps. Sometimes I finish my restaurant job at midnight and the next day I have to wake up early to sell the magazine. I’m tired but thanks to this effort and to the generosity of the people who buy The Big Issue my husband and I recently managed to rent our own flat, so I’m very happy.

When I first got here, my family helped me a lot and my brother allowed me and my husband to live with him and his family. Fortunately, I’ve never had to live on the streets.

Selling The Big Issue has helped me in many ways. It has given me not only an income but the confidence to speak with people, understand a bit more about the English culture and make some friends. Also, they have helped me to improve my English skills thanks to the free ESOL
classes I attend. 

I’m from Mărășești in Vrancea, in Romania. My home town is much smaller than Bristol and not so developed. Of course I miss my country, but I prefer the UK. There are much more opportunities to have a job, and the people are friendlier.

I love Bristol. The locals here genuinely care about other people’s wellbeing, and if I have a bad day there is always somebody coming over to me and asking if I need something. 

I would love to keep living in Bristol. This city and its people make me really happy. 

Interview: Megan Clarke/Raluca Mihai

Photo: Frankie Stone

Argos Bristol Gloucester Road Local Sainsbury's Collection Point, 2-4 Gloucester Rd, Bishopston, Bristol BS7 8AE, UK