Tony Barnes, 46, Caffè Nero, Beeston, Nottingham

Tony enjoys meeting people while out selling the magazine, and he likes to take life one day at a time

I’ve been selling the magazine for three and a half years, and I came to The Big Issue because basically I was homeless. I was begging and then I saw someone in Nottingham city centre who was selling the magazine and they said to me: “Why don’t you just go to the office and ask to sign up?” So that’s what I did. 

When I was begging I used to get pulled up by the police all the time and get moved on. But with The Big Issue you can’t do that. It’s better to sell The Big Issue, you get a better reaction from people. I’ve managed to get quite a few regular customers now I’ve been doing it for a while. There are quite a few who buy the magazine each week. Some of them do more than that – there is a couple who help me with my travel expenses each week, they give me some money to help me travel by bus or tram to get to my pitch. It’s alright around Beeston.

I live in a shared house now near Nottingham’s Forest Recreation Ground. I’ve been there since just before the pandemic and it’s not too bad. I’m paying service charges for where I am, and they went up about three weeks ago. I sometimes do find it hard to keep up with payments and I do miss some months. I have been threatened with eviction sometimes because of that.

I used to sleep in the Lace Market Car Park in Nottingham. I was doing that for about six months, and it was alright. Sometimes it was a bit scary because you didn’t know who was coming and going. I used to just stick to the very top of the car park where it was really quiet to try to stay safe. I used to sleep out in the cold, and it was difficult when it was raining or if it was snowing. In the end, the council had to find me somewhere because of my health conditions. I’ve got asthma, COPD, angina and epilepsy and sometimes it can get quite bad. I’ve been in and out of hospital so many times in the last 14 months. And it means there’s not a lot of things I can do away from The Big Issue. I can’t drive or use pushbikes or anything because of my epilepsy and I can’t do much physical stuff because of my asthma. I do like listening to pop music when I can though.

I’m not actually from Nottingham, I’m originally from London and I came up about five years ago. I’m not really sure why, but I stayed. I was brought up in care from the age of six months to 18 and I don’t know my parents or if I’ve got siblings or anything like that. I’ve never really wanted to meet my family because when I found out that my parents put me in care I felt that they didn’t really want me and I was a mistake to start with. 

At the end of the day, I saw some good things and some bad things when I was in care. I don’t think people get enough support when they leave care. In my day there used to be a lot of youth clubs, but nowadays there’s nothing for people to do and I think that’s why people end up getting into trouble.

I don’t really have any big plans for the future – I just want to take things day by day. But I like selling The Big Issue. I like how it lets me meet different people and it gets me out and about. I wanted to tell my story in the magazine to let people know what life’s about – life is hard, but I think some people don’t realise just how hard it is. Thanks to my customers for supporting me.

Interview: Liam Geraghty 

Caffè Nero, High Road, Beeston, Nottingham, UK