Tony Flynn, 61, M&S Barnstaple

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I was homeless in Exeter, sleeping on the streets. It was horrendous. It was the winter of 2015-2016 and I’d been working as an engineer but when I lost the job I lost my flat. I couldn’t believe it had happened to me. The horrible part is that you’ve got nowhere to go to unwind and you haven’t got a base to operate from.

There were two Polish guys I used to team up with at night and we’d sleep in an open garage. It was -5C, we’d put cardboard and sleeping bags down and sleep in threes. In the mornings we’d be freezing cold, waiting for McDonald’s to open at 6am to get a coffee. Then in 2016 I was booked into a hostel in Exeter and I met a guy who was selling The Big Issue. I was struggling, not knowing how I was going to pay for my accommodation, so he asked me if I’d like to sell it.

I’ve got family in the area so eventually I got a flat in north Devon through a housing association, which helped a lot. I’m still living in it now. I had a nervous breakdown after I lost my job so I was on medication. I came off it slowly, and I’m not homeless anymore, so I’m definitely in a good place. The Big Issue’s like a job to me now. They’ve given me a bit of responsibility, co-ordinating in north Devon, so I feel quite proud of that. I take it seriously, make sure the money’s right. It gives you a sense of meaning.

When I heard The Big Issue was rolling out the contactless scheme, I went out and got an iZettle reader. It wasn’t expensive. I got the smartphone and I downloaded the app. I haven’t looked back really. I’ve put stickers on my plastic covers and I’ve got a badge on my tabard, so people do come up to me and ask if they can pay by card. I get five or six card payments a day now and I’m picking up clients who haven’t had cash. I’ve noticed they come back again and pay by card, they prefer not having to go and look for change. Sometimes people would say they were going to get cash but something might distract them, so you do get extra customers this way.

The Big Issue is working well for me. I’ve got a good bunch of customers. In the holiday period you don’t see them much, but you get holidaymakers to sell to. After the holidays they’ll be starting to come back. Barnstaple is the hub of the area, the coastal towns are quiet so if the people want to come and do shopping they mostly come here. It’s worthwhile hanging in there.

Normally business drops away in the summer but this year it hasn’t. The Big Issue had a lot of publicity early on in the year. I went on local TV explaining that I buy the magazine and it’s like a business. Then people understood a bit more, so that exposure really did help me. It’s what we needed. I’ve done alright actually, I have no complaints.

Image: Julie Wicks

Marks & Spencer Barnstaple, High Street, Barnstaple, UK