James Allerton, Wilco, Ilkeston

When he's not on his pitch at Ilkeston, James can sometimes be found selling the magazine at Experian in Nottingham, and even the occasional Celtic punk gig

I was living in Bradford and working full-time when I split from my partner and had to leave our flat. So I was homeless from that moment. I got hold of a couple of friends in Derby and managed to stay with them until I found myself a hostel. Then they moved me out of the hostel into a shared flat, and now I’ve got my own place. In your own flat you can do what you want, watch TV in the living room and have a drink without having to leave the premises. 

I’ve had a lot of mental health issues. I’ve self-harmed in the past but since I’ve had my dog he’s been a lifesaver. He’s an American cocker spaniel called Harlow and I look at him and think, I can’t do anything stupid. I’ve got the dog to think about now. We’re inseparable, he’s my baby. He comes on my pitch with me and my regulars love him, he’s so well behaved. But it’s been pretty cold out the past couple of weeks so I haven’t taken him with me. I’m on medication for my mental health, and I do feel low at times, but Harlow keeps me company. When I’ve got my feet up, he’ll jump straight up and lie with me. 

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The Big Issue helps with my mental health too because I’m getting out and talking to people. A lot of my regulars have asked why I’m doing The Big Issue and I’ve told them that I started out as homeless. They know I’ve got my own place now, but they still support me and come and buy magazines. At Christmas I was allowed to sell the magazine at the credit agency Experian in Nottingham. Then one of their staff, Abigail, got in touch with The Big Issue asking if I could go back occasionally, which I’m so thankful for. If it wasn’t for them I’d be selling out in the cold. When I’m there they buy me my food and drinks and I’m in the warm. I know it’s just one day, but it’s still something. 

At the end of January, the band Ferocious Dog invited me to sell The Big Issue in the foyer at their gig at Rock City in Nottingham. Ken from the band has bought from me before and he got up on stage and told everyone to buy a magazine and support The Big Issue. I had 49 magazines that night and sold out, it was pretty helpful! 

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I like watching football to unwind, and I’m captain of a darts team. We play in a league but at the moment we’re struggling, we’re bottom so I think we’ll end up with the wooden spoon. But we’re not really that competitive, we just want to have a laugh and meet new people. You can’t win all the time. I say to my team – if we win, we win; if we lose, we lose. There are teams that go and try to get wins every week. That’s not us. When you’ve been homeless, nothing matters apart from keeping yourself warm and safe. Compared with those sorts of worries, a darts match isn’t a big deal. 

Interview: Sarah Reid

wilko, Bath Street, Ilkeston, UK