Jeff Knight, Hamilton House, Stokes Croft, Bristol

Jeff is a keen cook and loves his air fryer. He also enjoys his job because it gets him out and about meeting people

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I’m a street person, I like to greet everybody with open arms. How’s your day? How’s life? How’s things? How’s uni? How’s the kids? My pitch is on Stokes Croft in Bristol. You get all sorts of people, lots of nightlife. It’s busy. I’ve been selling The Big Issue for 10 or 12 years. I’ll be out there every day, from eight in the morning, with a break for lunch, until the afternoon or the evening. Before, I was rough sleeping and begging in Castle Park. I got directed to The Big Issue after being stopped by the police. It changed my life, helped me get off the streets, and uplifted my spirit. 

Sometimes I’ll talk to my customers for 20 minutes, half an hour. I’ll be there for them. It’s not all about the money. It’s about communication and unity, loving and caring and being there for everybody, no matter what. The kindness you show to people comes back to you. When my regulars see me, even if I don’t have the magazine, they’ll stop and help me out. If they don’t see me for a couple of days, they’ll be concerned, and ask me if something’s up. “We thought something happened to you,” they say. I’ll get a hug or a fist bump. They’re there for me.

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One of my customers saw me sleeping on the streets a few years ago and started a crowdfunder to buy me a campervan. The community raised £7,000 and I got the van. When I was in the van, I was happy. It had solar panels and bunk beds. I could watch my TV, relax and put up my feet. I don’t have the van any more, but I’m now living in a shared house.

Last year, my community came together in an amazing way. I came to the UK from Jamaica when I was 32, and I’ve got an ongoing deportation case, as well as an asylum case with the Home Office. Over 25,000 people signed a petition and hundreds sent in character references to my support worker at The Big Issue. I’m waiting for an outcome, and I try to put it out of my mind, sell my Big Issue, and get through. People love, and they’re caring. It’s amazing. It means everything, it means my life. 

During Covid, I was still out there anyway. People looked for me and helped me any way they could. They were there for me. An artist even painted a mural of me on the wall by my pitch. When everything came back, though, it was great. Everywhere, people are loving and caring. Bristol people are kind, if you’re up or down, they’ll support you. The same is true everywhere

When I’m not at my pitch, I’ll be at home cooking and then relaxing in front of the TV. I love to cook. Sometimes it’s chicken, beef, fish or lamb cheek. You’ve got to cook lamb cheek slowly, about four hours. It’s tough. I’ve got an air fryer, too, they’re great. Chuck some chicken wings in the air fryer and it comes out just like fried chicken. Lovely. There’s something wrong with it at the moment, though, it’s not working for some reason.

I love my TV. If I don’t sleep, I’ll watch a UFO show. I watch so many shows – murder mysteries, Batman and Robin, crime shows, sometimes a cartoon. Even Thomas the Tank Engine! I’ll watch all kinds of films, at home and at the cinema. Everyone’s been talking about Barbie. Otherwise, I’ll go to the park near my house, sit down and chill out. Who knows where I’d be if I wasn’t selling The Big Issue. I live in the present. If you’re gonna do something, you go and do it. It’s amazing to be out there on my pitch, to see everyone, greet everybody, talk to everybody. Things are amazing, no matter what. 

Interview: Greg Barradale

Hamilton House, Stokes Croft, Saint Paul's, Bristol, UK