Mark Richards, Waterstones, Cardiff

Mark is captain and goalkeeper for Street Football Wales, and is looking forward to returning to the game after a recent injury

If I didn’t sell The Big Issue I’d probably be in prison or 6ft under the ground. I’ve had bad experiences of people taking advantage of me in the past. One time I went away to visit my family and I let some people I thought were friends stay in my flat. But when I got back I found they’d trashed it. I feel a lot better now than I did then because I have my independence.  

Eight years ago I started selling The Big Issue, to give me something to do that isn’t begging. The police make it hard to do that, and selling The Big Issue makes a good income for me. I’m originally from Cambridgeshire and moved to Cardiff in 1991. I did a lot of sofa-surfing back then, travelling up and down the country. At one point I thought, the only place I haven’t been to is Wales and when I got to Cardiff I found there were a lot of friendly people here.  

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I’m on my pitch six days a week, and on Mondays I go into the office to send out all the corporate subscriptions. I send out a copy of the magazines to customers who have bought a subscription but who can’t visit me, or another vendor, in person. I post them all over the world: Australia, America, Japan. I put one, two, three – sometimes five – copies in an envelope, write my signature on it and send them off.   

I’m glad to be back on my pitch after spending two months off work. I was walking down the Arcade, twisted my ankle and got a fracture. I had to spend seven weeks at home – all I could do was watch TV. It was a struggle. I couldn’t go to my pitch so I had no money coming in, only universal credit and support from The Big Issue. It’s great to be back and seeing my regular customers. They tell me they’ve missed me.  

Now my ankle’s better, I’m looking forward to playing football again. I’m captain and goalkeeper for Street Football Wales. They organise the Homeless World Cup. Last year the team went to Spain but I couldn’t go with them because I didn’t have a passport. In 2019 the Homeless World Cup came home to Cardiff and it was brilliant. Teams came from all over the world to play football here in Wales. The actor Michael Sheen put all his money into making sure it went ahead.  

Things are better now than during Covid, but it’s still tough. During the lockdowns when we couldn’t sell the magazines, The Big Issue gave us food vouchers which helped a lot. Now things are better and I’ve got everything I need. Winter is always harder though. I’ll be relieved when the government tells us when the next cost of living payment is coming in autumn. That’ll be helpful.  

Halloween’s coming up soon and I usually get dressed up. I get my costumes together from shops like Poundland. Someone could be having a really bad day, but if they see me in fancy dress it could make them laugh. It brightens up their day. I don’t know what I’ll wear this year yet. Last Halloween I was Count Dracula.  

This year I’m going to work towards getting myself a passport. Any extra money I get will go towards paying for that and maybe even going on a holiday. I’d like to go somewhere nice and warm and exotic. I don’t know where, maybe Barbados?  

Interview: Evie Breese 

Waterstones, The Hayes, Saint Davids Centre, Cardiff, UK

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