The first time I saw The Big Issue was when I was staying in a night shelter a long time ago. I saw an advert on the wall and got interested and started doing it. It’s been a really good thing for me, it’s something for me to do as well as how I make an income. When I was rough sleeping I managed to find places to go for food so I didn’t have to do a lot of begging, but selling The Big Issue feels a lot better. I quite enjoy talking to people and I try to present myself in a positive way. You’ve got to be positive in life, I think, and I find it helps in this job.
I was brought up in Cumbria, just outside Appleby near Penrith. After I left school I worked on the farm I was brought up on and when that was sold I went into the army for about six years. Then I lived in Canada for another six years but when my marriage ended I came back to Britain. That was in 2004. I had not a penny in my pocket and that’s when I first experienced rough sleeping.
I used my common sense and bought the right equipment to live that life in a comfortable way. I’ve got a small car and when lockdown happened I’d been living in that. It was fine, I was comfy in there and I was protected from the elements, which is the main thing. But at the start of lockdown I was put into some accommodation. I’ve got my own room and my own bathroom, and it’s nice to live normally again. I’ve had a letter of assurance from the council saying nobody will be kicked out but I should imagine they’ll move me on to something else eventually as this place is just short-term.
I’ve got a good pitch here in Cambridge. I was up in Liverpool for four years and I like it a lot up there but north-west England gets a lot more rained-off days. You can choose to go out and work in the pouring rain but you’re not going to sell much. I prefer the east for doing The Big Issue. I work for around five hours a day and sell about 15 magazines but when the students get back in October I’ll do a full day and try to sell 20 or 25. During lockdown I missed being out selling – I prefer to be outside. Fitness is my thing these days. When I finish work I have supper, relax a bit then go out walking around the city for a few hours just to burn a bit of fat. I put on weight during lockdown and I hate being fat, it’s embarrassing. I was scared stiff to weigh myself but it’s starting to shift now.
I’m saving to get a smallholding going and I’m open-minded about doing that as part of a small co-operative. Because I’m from a farming background I see that as my re-entry point back into farming. I was brought up on a small dairy and beef farm but my setup wouldn’t be anything like that – it would be fruit, veg and poultry and I’d produce a range of products to sell in farmers’ markets. It’s good farming country here in East Anglia. More people are becoming health conscious about eating less beef and more fruit and veg so even if I won a million pounds I’m not sure I’d buy a full farm and go into beef production. I believe in trying to be realistic. My plan is for all good organic stuff, the public like that.
Photo: Onur PinarWHSmith, Market Street, Cambridge