Meet Our Vendors

Lee Cooke, 30, Grey Street, Newcastle"My main hobby is fixing up cars, I can do anything, I'd definitely like to be a mechanic one day, it's my passion"

Become a vendor

Years ago I was homeless in Durham and my mate said to me, why don’t you do The Big Issue? I said aye, I’ll give it a go so they gave us some mags and I made £50 in my first three hours. I’d been begging and that was more money than I’d seen in a long time. I was on the streets for nearly two-and-a-half years. It was horrible, especially during winter. One morning all my fingers were blue but I never worried I wouldn’t survive. I didn’t think like that.

When I started selling The Big Issue it was a good feeling that I had money in my pocket. I started saving and after about six months I put down a deposit for a house in North Shields. I’m still there now but I’m going to have to leave next month because with the housing benefit cap I can’t afford the rent. I don’t have anything lined up but I’ve been there two-and-a-half years and I’ve made quite a lot of friends around there so it’s going to be hard for us to leave. I live on my own but I’ve got a dog. He’s on his way out unfortunately. He used to come on to my pitch but he’s got that bad now that I won’t bring him out. He’s a Staffie cross called Bullseye and he’s one of the friendliest dogs in this town. He definitely helped with sales in his day.

I’ve had a break from The Big Issue and I’ve just started back so I haven’t got that many sales at the minute. But I’m trying to get the customers back. This job has taught me how to be polite and how to talk to people properly, and it’s definitely helped me to build confidence. I have anxiety and depression and I can’t sleep, so this is flexible. Some days I get up and I can’t leave the house but The Big issue don’t mind if I phone up and say I’m not coming in. In another job I could have been sacked by now. It’s really hard but The Big Issue is really working out for me.

The problems started when I was 15 or 16. I got my son taken off me and I fell out with his mam. It all went downhill from there and I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety ever since. I’ve just started my medication again, and I’m waiting for an appointment with a counsellor. I was a young dad, 15 when my son was born. I had supervised contact but then I went to jail and when I came out I wasn’t allowed to see him. He’s 15 now and there’s a hearing at the county court next month to find out if I can have unsupervised contact. That would really make me happy again.

My main hobby is fixing up cars. I can do anything with a car really. Last year I rebuilt an Astra and put a Saab engine into it. I’d paid £500 for it and I sold it for £2,500. It had lots of power and it was just nice to know that I’d built it and that it was working. I don’t know where I learned this stuff, I just picked it up off my brother when I was a bairn because he was quite a bit older. I’d definitely like to be a mechanic one day, it’s my passion. If I could have any car it would be an Audi A7 S Line. Lots of power.

Interview: Sarah Reid

Images: North News

Grey Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
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