James Heaton, 43, Milsom Street, Bath

Selling the magazine has let me put my life back together

Originally I started selling The Big Issue after I broke up with my ex while I was living with her in a backpacker’s hostel and working for an agency. I wasn’t getting enough work at the time and I was going into  more and more debt so I went out and gave The Big Issue a try one day. I was sofa-surfing with a friend, staying in her son’s old room for a bit of cash-in-hand and she was selling the magazine at the time.

I then settled back where my family is from in Gillingham – though I’ve been in Bath since I was three so feel like a local – and stopped selling but then a few years ago I got in trouble and got into a fight with a friend of mine when I was drunk. I was arrested and put out on bail, and went to the night shelter in Bath. They helped me with my mental health and my recovery and I went to The Big Issue
from there.

I’ve been selling for 12 years on and off and I have found that The Big Issue has been the most emotionally supportive organisation in this town. I talk to people in the office about stuff and they don’t judge you, they just listen. It’s not necessarily about a solution, they are there to let you sound off and they make you feel better.

The Big Issue has also given me opportunities. Recently I went sailing across the Channel with the Tall Ships Youth Trust. I was on the boat with a team of adults and I learned how much more complicated a yacht is to sail than I thought. It’s not just about the sailing, it’s the washing-up, the cooking dinner, it’s all about mucking together and working as a team to keep everything running efficiently. I’m dead keen on the opportunity to do more work with them. It’s the best thing I’ve done in years.

The Big Issue has become a means to an end really, but I kind of want to move on up now. Selling the magazine has enabled me to get to that point where I can put my life back together and sort myself out, and when I’m actually stood there working it keeps me busy. It can work for you in a really positive way.

I’m into trying new experiences at the minute, that’s why I gave the sailing thing a go. In the last couple of years I’ve learned to spin a fire staff which I carry around with me. You light both ends and spin it around and it is a nice distraction. I’ve also studied ear acupuncture, where you put needles in people’s ears to help with recovery.

I’m quite happy to do anything that involves helping people and is a sort of sociable thing – I enjoy that with The Big Issue. I have customers like one guy who smiles and waves at me every day even if he doesn’t always buy a magazine. That kind of makes me want to keep trying, those are the moments that make it all worthwhile.

Interview: Liam Geraghty

Photo: Colin Hawkins

The Ivy Bath Brasserie, Milsom Street, Bath, UK