Simone Gill, 41, Tesco Metro, New George Street, Plymouth

I used to be a tattoo artist but because of my disabilities I can’t do it any more. I’ve got bipolar, and also arthritis and sciatica. I came to tattooing later in life but I was always interested, even back when I was really young. I’ve always drawn and painted so it just felt right to do that for a living. I don’t have an outlet for my creativity at the moment, and I do miss it. I miss drawing and painting but with my bipolar I don’t always have the right head space to sit and draw.

I had a business called Bony Ink and I’ve tattooed myself plenty of times. I’ve done my own feet, my left arm, my left hand, my leg and my ankles. You’ve got to have a lot of concentration and a high pain threshold to do that. I’m covered in tattoos now but my favourite’s probably my left foot, I like that a lot because I did a cherry blossom tree on it. They’ve all got different meanings, it depends where I’ve had them and what they’re of.

I’ve studied martial arts since I was a very small child and I’ve got some martial art tattoos. They remind me of when I was physically capable of doing that. I miss it, you know? I was also a healthcare assistant for five and a half years before I took up tattooing. It was heartbreaking when I had to give that up as it was lovely work. I was working with elderly people with Alzheimer’s and dementia; feeding them, washing and bathing them, just helping them get through their day. I washed their clothes and cleaned their rooms.

My mum’s been through three lots of cancer and I nursed her through that, starting when I was 10 years old. We even went to Australia at that point to visit family just in case anything happened to her. It was very hard, but I think it’s what made me want to become a care assistant later on.

I needed something new to do, as a disabled woman I needed to be going out and meeting people again so that’s why I came to The Big Issue. I’ve been selling it for going on three years now and I’ve met lots of new friends. It gives me something to do with my day. I was faced with homelessness at one point and I had to save money for a deposit on a new place, selling The Big Issue helped with that. I haven’t been on the streets but I have sofa-surfed. I’m in a shared house at the minute with lovely housemates, and my boyfriend has a room upstairs. Lockdown was hard going to tell you the truth. It wasn’t very nice. I missed selling the magazine and I was so grateful for The Big Issue support every two weeks. That helped a lot.

It was quiet at first back on my pitch but I’m building it back up again now and my regulars have come back to me, which is lovely. A few of them are on my Facebook page so I keep in contact with them that way. I have a card reader, phone and tablet now, so people can pay me contactless. It’s made a difference, I get at least three or four more customers a week now.

I was born in Plymouth and I’ve been here most of my life. My mum’s here and so are my sister, brother, daughter and aunties and uncles. My mum was older when she had me so she’s into her old age now but she’s independent. She’s not doing too bad. I’m on three medications for my bipolar, I never used to be able to sleep and I was always on the go but I was still worried about the medication turning me into a zombie. I was against it at first, but I couldn’t live without it now.

Interview: Sarah Reid

Photo: Tommy Hatwell

Tesco Metro, New George Street, Plymouth, UK

The Big Issue

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