Richard Broadway, 52, Co-op, Birchington/Westgate-on-Sea

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I’ve moved around all my life, from being born in London then going into care. I was constantly on the move and when I settled in Margate it was quite hard to get used to at first. When I was on the streets I became suicidal and took an overdose. I ended up in a mental health unit. I saw social services and they got me a place in Canterbury. I’d sold The Big Issue before and so I got involved with it again. The best thing about it is meeting people on my pitch, it’s given me a reason to find my independence and self-respect. It’s also helped me get my belief in other people back, because with my upbringing I lost trust, faith and belief in others.

I want to thank The Big Issue for everything it does for vendors behind the scenes. The support and the help and understanding from my customers and the people around me has been… well, you can’t really put it into words. When I first started selling down here I was very introverted, I wouldn’t say boo to a goose. A lot of people say I’ve really come out of my shell. They know me as the music man for the music I play, and I dress up as Father Christmas in December. At the moment I’m trying to think of a good Halloween costume. I’d also like to start a car cleaning enterprise soon, I’d clean, wax and polish while the owner shops.

I’ve done a few talks at secondary schools and other groups. I tell the kids about being homeless, what it actually means, and the different categories of homelessness. I also talk about the risks of getting involved in drugs or alcohol. I know better than most, as I started from age 11. The biggest talk I ever did was in front of 150 kids. They sat there so quietly and asked questions afterwards. Then a few days later I received letters from them, given to me by the headteacher. If I can save one kid from drugs or alcohol then it’s worth it.

I’m on medication for depression, anxiety and PTSD but I still have periods when I don’t want to go out and I don’t care about anything. Mental health is something people can’t see until it raises its ugly head through suicide, mood swings, substance abuse… In Westgate there happens to be what was voted the best micro pub in Kent, the Bake & Alehouse. I go there with my friends and they buy me a drink now and again, but they know I’ve had a problem so they look after me.

My life started off in care. I was due to be adopted but that fell through. I was transferred to a children’s home that was really nice, right down on the beach where I learned to swim. But at the age of nine I was living with my mum, sisters and stepdad. Life there wasn’t good, I didn’t feel part of that family. Nothing was explained to me. I suppose I blamed my mum and I hated her for that. When I got back in contact with my sister I found out that my mum had passed away. I didn’t get the chance to say sorry, or to tell her that I loved her. That still sticks with me.

Interview: Sarah Reid

Photo: Sheradon Dublin

Co-op Food - Westgate-On-Sea, Station Road, Westgate-on-Sea, UK

The Big Issue

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