Illie Preda, 42, outside Greggs, Alnwick

As well as selling the magazine, Illie also works as a franchisee for The Big Issue, helping other vendors in the area

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I’ve lived in Newcastle since 2007, but I like to sell the magazine in Alnwick because there are nice people here and it’s a nice place. I have never had any discrimination here because my colour is not white. I have lots of regular customers and I consider them like best friends or my family.

I sell the magazine two or three days a week and I work with The Big Issue office in Newcastle to deliver magazines to homeless people and the Romanian community. I’m very happy to be a franchisee for The Big Issue. I sell the magazines and I keep the money until my manager comes for it and I give it to him. At the end of the week I get money for that job. I do that job because he sees me as a very serious vendor as I have worked here for a very long time. 

When I first came to England in 2007 my English was not good. No one trusted me to give me a job because of my English. I was initially in Liverpool after moving from Barcelona in Spain because the economy was very bad there but it was very, very difficult. My classroom where I learned the language was on the street in Alnwick.

I didn’t have friends in Liverpool, but I had one friend in Newcastle and he told me to come here so he could help me. He took me to The Big Issue office and the first time I bought 50 magazines – it was 75p each back then, with the magazine sold for £1.50. I went to this village outside Newcastle and set up outside Greggs, and after three or four hours I made £50. It was a miracle. So I thought, “This is my job. This is much better than begging or stealing.” I managed to get the money together to get a rented flat, and I got another job washing dishes at a Chinese buffet restaurant working from 5-10pm. All my life in England has been spent working non-stop.

I have a good life in England. If I tried to go back to my country it would be very difficult to find a job. I was very worried when Brexit happened in 2016. I was very scared so I went to Citizens Advice to explain my situation and that I needed documents. It was very difficult as you have to provide a lot of proof. They helped my family and me to get settled status permanently so I am happy now. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but for the moment it is fine.

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The Big Issue has helped me so much. It has given me the money to keep my children in education and pay the bills to get a flat in Newcastle. It has given me a second job as a franchisee too. I like this because I know too many people in the situation I was in, I know the feeling of not having a job or money to pay the bills. 

I have six children – two sons aged 23 and 10 and four daughters aged 19, 17, 13 and five. I’m very happy now because my eldest child – who was seven when I came to England and is now 23 – is studying the last year of a business management course. I’m proud of him because his English is better than mine, and probably in the future he will have a good job. He’s a good boy so probably in the future he will help me as well! I am a little sad though because he has lost the Romanian story, the language and traditions. I’m trying my best to explain about Romania’s traditions but, I’ll be honest, he’s not very interested in that.

Interview: Liam Geraghty

44 Bondgate Within, Alnwick, UK

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