Illie Preda, 38, Greggs, Alnwick

I’m a local celebrity – they put my picture in the museum

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I left Romania when I was 16 years old because I wanted to find work.

I went to Spain and stayed in Barcelona until 2007. But the Spanish economy went flat and so I came to England to change my life and find a job.

It was my wife, my three children and me and when we arrived here we tried to find someone to help us but couldn’t. Then I spoke to some people in the Romanian church and they told us to try The Big Issue office. I explained my situation but my English wasn’t very good. They gave me a badge anyway, and a pitch in Alnwick.

I used to smile at the people all the time until I learned how to have a conversation and found an English class. After five years I found a second job as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant. I’m still doing it now but my biggest and best help was The Big Issue because every week I sell 50 magazines and with my income I manage to pay my bills. I have my regular customers. Sometimes if they don’t have the money I give them a magazine for free, if they’re absolutely the very best customers.

I’m famous in Alnwick because they put my picture in the museum. I’m a local celebrity. In the summertime a lot of tourists come. The Harry Potter fans come to see Alnwick Castle. I’ve been here for 12 years so I know these streets really well. Sometimes if I can give them good information they buy a magazine from me. A friend I made here in Alnwick often pays for me to go into the castle, and the gardens as well.

There are too many homeless people living on the streets now. When I have some extra money I like to help the homeless people out, just buying them a tea or coffee or whatever. Sometimes I buy them clothes from charity shops, jeans or something. They need the help. I’ve never had to live on the streets. I have a flat in Newcastle and I’m very happy there.

But my story is not over. Now I have six children and I’m very happy because the eldest one is going to Northumbria University to study business. I will keep selling The Big Issue and working in the restaurant to give him money to go to university. One day when he’s finished he’ll have a good business. My dream is to work for him.

My three youngest children were born in Newcastle. The life of my children is in England but when they’re all alright, probably when I’m very old, I will go back to my country. I miss Romania because it’s an amazing country, very beautiful and welcoming. But there’s too much corruption in the parliament and there’s no chance of finding a job to support six children. So my plan is to stay here for now. This country has given me opportunities.

44 Bondgate, Alnwick, North East, NE66 1JD, United Kingdom

The Big Issue

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