Ricky Bell, 44, Derby

I used to be paranoid, but selling The Big Issue has made me more confident

Some time ago one of my friends in Nottingham was selling The Big Issue and he told me I could sell it too if I wanted. I was sofa-surfing at the time and I used to work, but it wasn’t full-time – just a bit here and there. I started doing voluntary work too, behind the counter at The Big Issue office. I like helping the homeless and people who have disabilities because my sister is physically and mentally disabled. That kind of work means a lot to me.

The Big Issue is amazing. It’s helped me loads. I used to be paranoid going out because I got panic attacks, but selling The Big Issue and meeting people has made me more confident. On my very first day I think I lasted about 10 minutes and then I had to go and sit somewhere cos I was sweating really bad. It takes a little while to get used to it. I always say please and thank you but sometimes people don’t really acknowledge that you’re there. It’s like you’re invisible. But you smile and be polite.

I was living in a tent but about three months ago I got a one-bedroom flat

I spent some time in prison and when I came out The Big Issue helped me with housing and getting back on my feet again. As well as sofa-surfing I was living in a tent but about three months ago I got a one-bedroom flat. There’s nothing in it really, but you take time to build your flat up. It’s brilliant. I was used to being on the streets and when I first got the flat I couldn’t get to sleep cos it was a bit hard being in a room and not outside. I’ve got used to it now though.

I’m trying to get a job but I want to get my flat sorted first. It’s like I’ve got a ladder and you’re building up some steps. The first one is to sort myself out, the second is to get a flat. Third, get my flat sorted then fourth get a job and build up from there. I’ve got a full and clean driving licence so I’m after trying to get a van job because I love driving.

My childhood was pretty bad. I can’t remember my mum and dad ever being together, but my dad remarried and it just wasn’t nice. I had hand-me-downs from my stepbrothers and I was bullied at school. It was horrible. I’m seeing a counsellor at the moment because I’m a manic depressive. I’ve felt, not suicidal, but close to it. Talking to myself a lot and just sitting alone. It was so depressing I’d cry myself to sleep.

I’m getting there slowly now. It’s like half and half cos I’ve got my flat and I feel closer to 100 per cent, where I can go and get a job and pay my bills. I haven’t been away anywhere this summer, I’d like to but it’s all expensive. I love fishing and camping. Being outdoors is just so nice and if I can be beside a river I just love the sound of water.

I’m looking for a dog at the moment, a pup so I can train it up. I used to have dog called Zara but she passed away. I like boxers, and staffs are nice. So are Japanese Akitas, but they’re expensive. Zara was a staff-labrador cross. She was soft as anything. I didn’t have to put her on the lead, she was always beside me. I had her for 15 years. I got her when she was one year old after she got beat up by the bloke who had her before. I hate people who hit animals. It’s sad – they’re your best friend.

Interview: Sarah Reid

Photo: Richard Gardner

The Derby Ram Statue, East Street, Derby, UK