Gary aka Coz, 55, Waitrose, Trumpington, Cambridge

Big Issue vendor Coz is passionate about selling the magazine and was recently moved to tears after a reader wrote in to thank him for coming to her aid

I enjoy selling The Big Issue and I’m very passionate about it. I’ve been doing it on and off now for about 20 years. It’s not a money spinner, I’m not going to be able to run a mortgage on it or anything like that. But it’s not about the money. It gives me a purpose to get up every morning and get out of the house, meet customers on a give-and-take situation. They’ll tell me their problems, I’ll tell them mine. It’s therapeutic. For the mental side of it, I isolated myself quite a bit during the pandemic and got depressed and all that with it. So I really enjoy the job. And it’s canopied where I am, so I am out of the rain too.

I’ve been at my current pitch for about a year. Throughout the pan-demic it was terrible but I’ve seen signs that things are picking up now. On average I can do about £25 a day but it might be £40 or £50 a day now, it’s building up. I’ve got plenty of regular customers on that pitch, there is one guy who buys me dinner every time I see him. The management staff at Waitrose always say hello and I get on well with the trolley boys.

Recently I helped a woman with a bike when she was trying to get home. It was getting dark and she’d still got a few miles to go to get back to her kids. Her chain was wrapped right around her back wheel. It was quickly released, I took it off, put it back on and sorted it. She wrote into The Big Issue saying I was a ‘vendor hero’ [Issue 1491, December 6].

When I saw it in the magazine I was crying all the way home. I was having a bit of a bad day and Lee (Welham, fellow Cambridge vendor) said you’re going to love this. It just made me feel like that’s what I do the job for. We’re not just there to make money, we’re there to be helpful as well.

I’m known as Coz – some stupid mates decided to call me that years and years ago and it stuck. It’s short for cosmic because they always said I was out in the stars somewhere. I worked with my dad most of my life in construction but work got a bit slow so I came to Cambridge with a load of con-tractors. Then I contracted COPD so I couldn’t run up and down ladders so much. So someone put me on to The Big Issue. I’ve been in Trumpington ever since.

You meet a lot of people and lose a lot too. I’d like to dedicate this piece to a couple of lovely people I’ve lost recently. This is for Neil Smith and Wayne Trickett. They’ll be sadly missed. I’m out of the hostel life myself now. I managed to bid for a new flat a year ago and it has been a fresh start for me. I didn’t even have to put a touch of paint on it, and it comes with all the mod cons. I love going home at the end of the day knowing I can lock that door and not get bothered by anybody. It means I’m away from triggers. It keeps me away from people I have met in hostels over the years who just want to go partying or sit around doing nothing. My magazine sales are covering the rent and the bills and I’ve got a key worker that comes round once a week and she’s brilliant. She helps me pay all my bills.

I’d like to thank my customers for giving me the time of day. They’re always offering me something to eat or a coffee or something. To me, this is the best job in the world, you don’t get that everywhere.

Interview: Liam Geraghty

Waitrose Ltd, Hauxton Road, Trumpington, Cambridge, UK