Gary Phillips, 45, Sainsbury’s, Saltburn

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I was in the local paper and on the radio in September after one of my customers set up a GoFundMe page which raised £1,500 to help me pay rent in a new flat. I had chosen to leave my property because it became difficult to pay rent when I couldn’t sell the magazine. It was only fair that I left because I was two-and-a-half months behind and the landlord has bills to pay too. It was my choice to live in a tent too.

I’m quite stressed at the moment while I’m sorting out a new flat and Teesside is going into lockdown again so that has made things harder on my pitch.

It had been pretty slow to start with when I got back to selling the mag in Saltburn in July, with not as many people coming out. It did seem to pick up again though and I got close to getting back to normal before cases rose again. It’s being going up and down.

It was like Christmas after the GoFundMe though. People were coming up to me wanting to give me money and buying magazines. The community really rallied around me and that continued before restrictions started to come in again.

I’ve been in Saltburn about three years and the people are amazing. They are all so friendly and talkative. They want to know how you’re getting on and they want to help you if you’re not doing well. They’re just interested and it’s not fake, they are genuinely nice people. I’ve lived all over the country but this is the only place where I have felt that I belong.

Brighton, Bournemouth, Birmingham, Worcester, Shropshire, all over Wales, I’ve been as far north as Dundee, all across the south coast. I’ve lived all over the place. But I belong in Saltburn.

I think you have to feel like you’re a part of somewhere and wherever I go I always end up all by myself. It gets boring and I think, “This isn’t for me.” So I end up going somewhere else.

I’m originally from Burnley, but left there when I was three, and then it was Shropshire and then Brighton. Since then I haven’t stayed anywhere for more than four or five years until I came up here.

It was in Brighton that I first started selling the magazine back in 1993. Before then I was working for a temp agency on scrapyards and different stuff. I was homeless at the time and I saw someone selling The Big Issue. I started talking to them and they told me to give it a go. I was begging in the streets too and I was selling drawings because I couldn’t play an instrument at the time. I’ve since taught myself to play guitar and that got me through lockdown.

I found selling the magazine very difficult at first, to be honest. I didn’t like approaching people and I didn’t pitch with a wall behind me so I had to go up to people to sell it. I soon got the hang of it.

Selling the magazine is a lot different now. I feel like vendors are a lot more accepted by the public. Back then you used to get about half the population mouthing off at you. “Get a real job!” Now that doesn’t seem to happen so much.

It doesn’t feel like you’re begging, but back then it sort of did. You definitely got put in the same bracket as beggars. But selling The Big Issue definitely gives you confidence to improve yourself. If I wasn’t selling The Big Issue I wouldn’t see anybody.

The main thing for me now is sorting out somewhere to live. I’m just playing the waiting game to get out of my tent. But it’s great that I am in that position and I am absolutely amazed by the generosity of people in Saltburn, I just couldn’t thank them enough.

Photo: Emma Booth

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