Max Hill, 47, Tesco Metro, Tavistock Street, Leamington Spa

A customer broke down crying, I held out my arm. I used to be a Samaritan

I’m a mechanic by trade, tyres and exhausts and things like that. But I lost my job and did what I could to make ends meet, but I was left with a lot of payday loans. I just couldn’t pay them back and it was all getting a bit too much for me. I didn’t have to go bankrupt, fortunately, and I ended up getting rid of about half of it. There’s still a few cards left but I’ve got them right down to about £200 or £300. I feel like I  got a fresh start though.

When things were bad I was suicidal. I was so low, and people kept saying ‘Why don’t you go and do the Big Issue?’ That was about four years ago. I’ve had this pitch for about two-and-a-half years. It’s busy on a Monday and a Friday and I do have some regulars but it took me quite a while to build them up.

I like being at Tesco because there’s cameras outside so if anything happens it’s all on tape. You feel vulnerable because things can go wrong. The staff in Tesco are a friendly  bunch though.

I used to be a Samaritan and sometimes in this job I have to use those skills as best I can. A customer came up to me today and broke down, actually crying, so I just held out my arm and said, “Let it out.” I’d like to be a Samaritan again in future, you really help and you also get something out of it yourself. I wouldn’t do it full-time yet though, because of the stuff  that’s going on with me. I don’t think I’m strong enough to take on a lot of cases just yet.

Leamington’s a lovely place, I’d like to keep living here

My partner Mark was really supportive through my troubles. I live here in Leamington with him at the moment but I’m not there all the time. Maybe three or four nights a week and I also stay at refuges and other places. I really would like my own place and I’ve discussed it with Mark and he doesn’t mind. But there’s nothing. I’m from Tamworth originally and the authorities just keep telling me I can’t have anything because I’m not from the area. You could go to any area and they’d say the same thing! And renting privately would be a bit expensive for me at the moment. But Leamington’s a lovely place, I’d like to keep living here.

My main hobby is doing abstract painting. Paul Klee kind-of-thing, mostly self-taught.  I do oil on canvas, sometimes oil pastels. I’ve sold a few pictures in Leamington for about  £50-£70 depending on the size.

Some of the staff at the Salvation Army where I go for a cup of tea have bought my paintings. I find it very relaxing and I paint whenever I can afford the canvas. I’ve tried watercolours too but they’re not forgiving. If you make a mistake, that’s it.

Photo: Rebecca Knowles

Tavistock Street, Leamington Spa, UK