Jim Hannah, 62, Dove Street, Norwich
Selling The Big Issue saved my life. If I didn’t start this 10 years ago I don’t think I’d have stopped drinking. It was actually one of the other vendors who said, why don’t I try it? It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
Things started going pear-shaped when my wife passed away 14 years ago just three months after my dad died. I used to just drink every day of the week after that while sat in the graveyard. Then I landed in hospital one morning. I didn’t know how I got there. I’d collapsed outside my home and the surgeon told me if it wasn’t for the lad across the road who spotted me then I wouldn’t have been here. Through all the drink I’d given myself an ulcer and I didn’t realise I had it. I gave myself one hell of a fright. That was enough to make me give up the drink.
When I sobered up, my day consisted of just roaming the streets and I gave up my flat because it was too near the graveyard. Then I was rough sleeping for about nine months and living off benefits. I found it hard because I was tempted all the time to go back and have a drink. The hardest thing about rough sleeping for me was filling all the time you have on your hands.
I do 50-odd hours a week selling and I’ve always worked outside, so it’s ideal for me
I jumped at the chance to sell The Big Issue. At first I didn’t sell many mags but I was sleeping rough so I didn’t need a lot of money. But it gave me something to look forward to. Now I do 50-odd hours a week and I’ve always worked outside, so it’s ideal for me. I sort the magazines out for the rest of the vendors over the weekend too. It gives me a wee bit of power! I’m joking, but I enjoy the responsibility and they know they can depend on me.
I love it in Norwich. There are very good people here. I was born in Hamilton in Scotland but moved to Motherwell after my parents split up. I got in a bit of trouble there so my uncle told me to come down to England to start a new life. I just packed a bag and left one morning when I was about 19 and then travelled around England. I eventually landed in Norwich and I have been here for almost 40 years now.
This is my home. As people get to know you they start telling you little bits about them. And then you start telling little bits about you. They become friends, not just regulars. Recently it has been a bit quiet because I’m not getting the people going to work. I’m missing them but I’m selling enough mags to get by.
I’m in a shared house now and I pay my own way. That’s the way I wanted it. During the lockdown I used my savings to pay my rent because I didn’t want things too easy. I didn’t want to rely on benefits as the money could have tempted me to drink. It’s 10 years since I had a drink but I know I’m only one drink away from being back where I was. I did it my way and I survived it – I’m proud of myself.
I’m in the process of joining a lawn bowling club. I got myself a set of bowls from the charity shop for £10. It’s always fascinated me how they do it, so maybe you’ll see me at the next Olympics. I’m going to try and cut a day out of my selling to get myself a hobby, that’s my plan. We’ll see how good I am at it – I’m getting to that age now where I need something to do.
I’d like to thank everyone that supported all the vendors with a subscription while we were off our pitches during lockdown. Getting that money through the subscription really helped financially. And thanks to customers like Don and Rachel, who buy a mag off every vendor in Norwich every week.
A few of my regulars have my phone number and check up on me regularly. It just shows you what people are like though. Once people get to know you and they find out you are trying to do something they’ll help you any way that they can.
Jim Hannah was speaking to Liam Geraghty