Neil Stout, Duke Street, Tavistock

"You know you've arrived when someone knits you socks"

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I’m originally from London. I moved 26 years ago just to get away from the lifestyle in the Nineties. I had children down here and to be near them I got a two-bedroom place in Ivybridge. I started doing tiling, painting, plastering, bricklaying, all sorts. I was always productive and working. Then I lost my licence and the work dried up, and given that I’m over 50 it just became harder and harder in a rural area.

I was on Jobseeker’s Allowance and looking for work and doing everything they asked of me, and then they started on this bedroom tax. They wanted £12 a week, but I was only getting about £50 a week after stoppages on Jobseeker’s. Down here every time you look at a bus it costs you £4. So I was ordered to go to these courses where I had to fork out cash each day to get there. Getting that money back was a struggle. Even to get a CSCS card, which I need for most jobs, I had to do two courses. If I didn’t attend I got sanctioned. I did courses on customer service, maths, IT and employability, which I completed twice. I’ve also got basic counselling skills, which I did myself.

It was a bit of a struggle to begin with but now I’ve built up some regulars, and they really support me

Things were unsustainable and as soon as I got to £400 arrears on the house – bang. I got a summons to court, and was charged £170 for the privilege. Then I got another summons and they doubled the charges. Eventually I was given two weeks to leave and told I owed £900. That was it. I had to walk away, I had nowhere to put my stuff, no transport to move anything, I just had to get out – 15 years of my life I had to give up. Apart from some important paperwork, I had to leave all my possessions and walk away.

I started staying with friends. I’m homeless but I’m not rough-sleeping. We’re looking out for each other. The doctor told me I was suffering from depression and anxiety, but even after that I was told to go back on Jobseeker’s. I was in a rut – I was going down the plughole and things needed to change. I didn’t want the benefits people talking to me like I’m nobody any more, so I thought, why not try The Big Issue. I’d done it for a while a couple of years ago in Plymouth. Around me there were a lot of sellers, but in Tavistock I’m the only one. I started in June. It was a bit of a struggle to begin with but now I’ve built up some regulars, and they really support me. I feel part of the town now, people come and chat to me even if they don’t want a mag.

You know you’ve arrived somewhere when somebody knits you a pair of socks. A woman had asked me if I wanted some, I’d forgotten all about it then one day she just turned up with them. They are lush, so thick I can’t even fit them in my boots! Glitter wool, purple green and bright yellow stripes! Reinforced heel and everything. Sales are rising and hopefully that will continue. I’m happy building this up just now and taking a breather after all the things I‘ve been through.

About me…

My hobby

When I had a car I would go around picking up old bedframes and other bits of furniture to upcycle. I’m pretty artistic. I’d sell bits and bobs at the market and I’d love to do that again.

My son

Alexander’s 15 now, he’s got mates, a girlfriend, he doesn’t want to be hanging around with his dad. I want to keep the bond with him. He’s very important to me.

I’m on my pitch Monday – Saturday, 9am – 3:30pm

Photo: Rebecca Blades

53-55 Brook Street, Tavistock PL19 0BJ, United Kingdom