Peter Cowles, 38, High Row, Darlington

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When I was in lockdown I was itching to get back out on my pitch. It was a struggle but The Big Issue helped a lot with vouchers and bits and bobs. But since I’ve been back out it’s been slow – it’s starting to get there now, getting better, busier. I feel safer for having the PPE, you just need to have it. I was a bit wary about coming back and handling money.

Tracy in The Big Issue office offered me the card machine and I think that it’s going to be a lot easier to now I have that. She even went out of her way to help me set everything up so I was ready to sell with it. I made a couple of sales on the first day so things are picking up. People need to know about it though so I think I’m going to get a sign. I know a few vendors have done that.

I’ve been selling the magazine for well over a decade on and off. I moved up to the North East back in 1999 when I lost my mum to cancer because it was only me left and I had no other family. I later found out that I have a brother and two sisters around the country who were put in care. We’re talking now.

I was on the streets for a couple of months when I first moved up to the North East, sleeping rough in a tent. I had no nearest relatives who could help me but the local council stepped in. I’ve been able to maintain a property pretty much since then and I always make sure my bills are paid.

I always try to save my money and don’t spend it on rubbish – I used to drink all the time but I don’t do that now. I’m in a better place than before.

I started selling The Big Issue because I don’t like to be sitting on my bum all day, I like to be out and about. I’m an outside person. I’ve got my own garden so I spend a lot of time working on that. In fact, if one of my customers asks me to cut their lawn, I go and do it free of charge because I look after my customers and I like to keep them happy! They look after me with the odd job here and there.

Because I’ve been in Darlington for a few years I’ve built up a good relationship with them and they told me they missed me while I was away. I’m always smiling and having a laugh with people. I’m a happy-go-lucky person and I always try to make my customers smile so they remember me.

I missed my pitch as well – if I could sleep here I would! It was great to see my regulars again and I’ve told them I’ll give them a big cuddle when it’s safe to do so. But Virgin Money [next to Peter’s pitch] are moving location soon and I’m a little worried whether my customers who go there will still travel to come and see me. I’ll work around that, I always do.

During lockdown I was doing a bit of gardening, decorating, fishing, watching my team Man United and walking my dog Twilight Bella to pass the time – she doesn’t come on my pitch because she cries as she likes to be on the go. I love my fishing because I love being on my own. I love the quietness and it helps me to recharge my batteries, wind down, chill out and think about things.

I really am grateful for the support I’ve received from my customers. They’ve been asking about cashless payments so I’ve made sure I can offer that to them now. I love my customers.

Image: Dave Charnley

Virgin Money, High Row, Darlington, UK