Martin Hawes, M&S, Regent Street, Swindon

Martin was on television recently, talking to the BBC about the closure of M&S (his current pitch)

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Things are so bad here that it is beyond belief. The Marks & Spencer store where I sell the magazine will be closing on 28 October, according to reports. I have absolutely no idea what that means for me. I only wish we could save it. A few years ago, I was knocking out between 50, 80, 100 magazines a week, I’m down to 30 now. That’s how bad it is. It’s just this depression and recession we’ve got. Normally, Christmas is when I get the money though.

Things have got worse since the pandemic but that’s only a mere drop in the ocean; it’s been going for ages. I moved here to Swindon in 2006 and got a job at Honda. I used to do line clearing – clearing up the waste and stuff like that and taking it to the recycling centre. When the factory closed down in 2021, 3,500 people worked there. I was selling The Big Issue by then. I said Swindon would become a ghost town.

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I had a mental breakdown when I worked at Honda and they got rid of me. I’m still ill now, I’m better than I was but I’m never going to be fully better. I was just pondering what to do. I had all this time and I was going crazy. So I started selling the magazine. It was very nerve-wracking at first. People didn’t know who you were but over time you build up a rapport on your pitch.

Now, I’ve got loads of people who talk to me – everybody loves me on my pitch. You can’t get involved in too much of a conversation because if someone is coming to buy The Big Issue, they don’t really want to interrupt your conversation. You’ve got to be careful with that. 

But I’ve got a hell of a support here in Swindon. Some people even put pints in for me in the pub. I get letters from people I don’t even know half the time. It does make me feel a lot better. It does away with the suicidal thoughts. When I get back here, it gets really quiet. Out and about isn’t where the problem is, you’d think there is nothing wrong.

I used to come into town quite a lot on a Saturday when I wasn’t working and business was booming, wages were rising and shops were opening up day by day. But in the last 12 years everything’s gone downhill. More so since 2016, that’s when the real problem started. Not just here in Swindon but everywhere.

Brexit hasn’t helped because leaving the EU was nothing to do with border patrol and immigration. It was to do with trading with our partners. In 1971 it was known as the common market. Now it’s making everything too expensive and it’s killing everything off. Don’t blame me for this, I voted Remain. I talk to people and I listen to people’s needs. We need to be more centralised with everything up and down the country. 

I’ve been on the BBC’s Points West recently. They interviewed me about Marks & Spencer closing down. People saw it and loved it, someone told me it was a lovely speech. I’d completely forgotten about it. But do you really want to watch yourself on TV? Probably not.

I’ve got something of a failed Romeo & Juliet love story that goes back to 1987. Lisa d’Alanger – I love you today. I love you tomorrow. I love you always. I love like the stars above. I love til I die. When you were gone I realised that the time was wrong. All I want to do is say sorry for that fatal night. I will never forget you and you will always be in my heart.

Interview: Liam Geraghty

M&S, Regent Street, Swindon, UK

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