Gary Phillips, 43, outside Sainsbury’s, Saltburn

"I'm part of society rather than on the edges"

Before I sold The Big Issue I was begging on the streets of Brighton. I’d left children’s homes at 16 and moved straight into a bedsit, but within a month and a half I’d lost it because I had no clue how to live on my own. I ended up travelling around and became homeless. One day when I was begging I saw a lad selling The Big Issue when it was a new magazine, so I got myself a pitch. I’ve done all sorts of other jobs – abattoirs, factories, I’ve been a mechanic, an auditor and a gardener – but I enjoy The Big Issue most. It gives you freedom.

Selling the magazine feels a lot different to begging. I couldn’t go back on the street and beg, there’s no way. That was degrading and horrible. The Big Issue is positive and gives me a sense of being part of society rather than on the edge of it. If it wasn’t for The Big Issue I’d probably be in jail. Or dead.

I’d like to say thank you to Saltburn

This is the best pitch I’ve ever had – Saltburn’s a lovely place. The people here took me in and they’ve looked after me since I started here three months ago. They bring me coffees and sandwiches, not just one person but everybody. Once one person talks to you they all talk around the town and they’ve heard I’m a nice lad so they all want to support me. I’d like to say thank you to Saltburn. I thank my customers in person but I think it would be nice if they could see it in the Issue too.

I’ve just been given a bike so I’ve been cycling a lot. One of my customers is into cycling and I told her I cycled across Norway as a kid. She said, “I’m going to get you a bike” and she turned up a couple of Saturdays ago with a lovely second-hand mountain bike.

At the moment I’m living in a bedsit in Middlesbrough. It’s not very nice, it’s noisy and dirty and something I want out of as soon as possible. I want to buy a boat to live on. You can buy one for under £1,000 – that’s less than a deposit and rent in advance. I bought one last year but I was ripped off and when I took it out on its maiden voyage it sank. I spent £800 on it. It took me nearly two years to save that money and I lost everything I owned. I came away with just what I had on my back.

When I get the boat I think I might stay around Saltburn. Depending on what I buy I can go on the Tees or the sea. I was abused as a child, which is why I was in care, and ever since I’ve always moved around. But I just feel at home here, more than ever before. Getting a boat as a solution to my housing problem was a dream of mine, a big dream, and I nearly packed it in. But I’m going to go for it this time.

A tasty gig…

I’m selling the magazine at the Saltburn Food Festival. There are all sorts of people coming from around the country showing off what they make. It’s going to be a great event

My music…

I play finger-style classical guitar. I taught myself from YouTube videos and I’m pretty good. Learning to play is the best thing I’ve ever done, it’s so relaxing. I pawned my last guitar and just got a new one this week. I haven’t put it down since.

On my pitch…

I’m here Tuesday to Saturday from 9:15am-2pm

Image: Richard Clayton

Sainsbury's, Milton Street, Saltburn-by-the-Sea, UK