Pete – Marks and Spencer, York

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Why do you sell the magazine?
I’m from Sheffield originally and I worked in the steelworks at first, following in my dad’s footsteps. I’d never beean out of work. But I got into a sticky situation many years ago where I was attacked. I ended up in hospital and nearly lost a leg. They started me on morphine in hospital and, well, it was hard to come off that and it really knocked my confidence. That incident changed my life really. I was happily chugging away and then I didn’t have my own place, didn’t have a job, and I started sleeping here and there.

What’s it like selling the magazine?
I remember when I first started, I was really nervous. Like a mouse, standing there and people rushing past. Now I know that one of the best ways to engage people is to get eye contact with them as they pass. I also sing and have a laugh and joke. Like if I see someone running down the street, I say, “There’s no need to run, I’ve got loads left!”

How does selling the magazine help you?
It means a lot to me, this. At one time I was on a slippery slope, but since the day I started selling Big Issue North my life has changed. I have a bit of money in my pocket and am able to make my own decisions – I’m my own man. I’ve got this air of freedom now. I talk to so many people who are unhappy at work and selling Big Issue North may not be the ideal job, but it’s been good for me.

What’s life like now?
I’m in a secure tenancy, which is great, and I’m on tax credits, which really helps. The tax credits top up the money I make selling the magazine and without them, I wouldn’t be able to pay for my travel to get from Leeds to York, for example. I live in Leeds but sell in York because there is more competition for pitches in Leeds, so it’s good to have an established pitch somewhere like York where there are fewer vendors. I buy my mags at the Trinity Methodist Church. I go in and have a chat with them, have a brew. They do what they can to help me whenever I have a problem.

What do you do with your spare time?
I do get out and about sometimes. I went to the National Coal Mining Museum the other week. It brought it all back. My mum and dad had a shop in a mining village near Sheffield and I remember the strikes. How my mum went grey through worry because we used to give out food on tick when no one had any money. Communities relied on those mines, there was nothing else. And when Maggie came in and closed them all down… it just destroyed those towns and villages.

Do you have a message for your customers?
I want to thank them for their kindness, their understanding and the fact that they turn up every week and buy the magazine.

Interview: Christian Lisseman

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