Peter Cowles, 36, outside Virgin Money, Darlington

“People in Darlington are proper polite and caring, they always say hello”

I came here from the Midlands after my mum died of cancer when I was 16. I’d been living with her and I couldn’t take the house on because I was too young. So I got a bag and jumped on the nearest train to see where I ended up. I arrived in Darlington and I’ve been here ever since. I just wanted to make a fresh start.

I was sleeping on park benches, in bus shelters or in tents for more than six months. You have to be in the area for a certain length of time before the council can help you. It was a struggle but I got through it with people’s help.

I was sleeping on park benches, in bus shelters or in tents for more than six months

I saw a Big Issue poster in the First Stop homelessness centre where I was going for coffee and I’ve been selling the magazine now for about eight or nine years. I love it, I love the banter and making people smile. In Darlington they’re proper polite and caring, they always say hello. They’re happy cos I’m happy.

I’m trying to set my own business up. Gardening, window-cleaning, decorating and odd jobs for the elderly. I do a bit of everything. It’s going alright and picking up slowly, now I just want to get more customers. I get a lot of work from my Big Issue customers, they’re spot on.

I’ve got a council flat now with my partner Tania-Ann. The next step is to decorate, so I need to make some money to buy all the paint. I’ll do it however the missus wants it. We’ve both been homeless so this is really special for us. She was homeless in Newton Aycliffe and I went there one day to sell some magazines and that’s how we met.

Being a carer

She’s diabetic and has Crohn’s disease, and is also visually impaired and deaf, so I’m her carer. We take it day by day and it’s tough but The Big Issue has helped us out a lot.

We’ve got a Staffie who we called Twilight Bella because we both love the Twilight books. I take her on my pitch if it’s a nice day but she hates the cold so if the weather’s not nice I leave her at home and she’s much happier.

I love being outside, selling the magazine whatever the weather

I love being outside, selling the magazine’s fine for me whatever the weather. I’m just a down-to-earth person with a smile on my face every day.

I’m a Red Devil… I love Man United. My parents supported them. I haven’t been to Old Trafford for a long time. I like Marcus Rashford. I think he’s a gem.

My dream holiday… If I won the lottery I’d go to Jamaica because Tania-Ann has always wanted to go. She loves everything about Jamaica, the flags and the colours. Because she’s visually impaired that flag really works for her.

On my pitch… I’m outside Virgin Money, High Row, Darlington, Monday to Thursday and Saturday, 8.30am-3pm

Photo: Andrew Risbey

Virgin Money, High Row, Darlington, United Kingdom

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