Stu, John Lewis, Sheffield

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How old are you and where are you from?
I’m 43 and I’m Sheffield born and bred but I’ve lived all over.

‘I love outdoor stuff. Me and a mate do lots of daft stuff together’

How long have you sold Big Issue North for?
I’ve been selling the magazine for 20 years on and off. I’m selling it to get me through, really – just to buy some food every day. I like the people I meet selling it. I’m not really a people person, but selling the magazine is like getting out of my comfort zone. It’s not that I’m shy, I just don’t like large groups of people. So if it’s a really busy day in town I get a bit panicked and I come off my pitch for a bit.

Where are you living at the moment?
I’m in supported accommodation which focuses on drug rehabilitation. It’s a brilliant place. I’ve only been there for a few weeks. Before that I was staying on friends’ sofas and sleeping rough.

What do you hope for in the future? 
To get back into the work I was doing before, which was drug and alcohol counselling. I ran a recovery service for about a year. I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I’ve been a drug addict since I was 14.

How did your drug use start?
Peer pressure. I was knocking about with older people. I had tried heroin, and on my fourteenth birthday I thought I had a bad cold. I didn’t. I was rattling and I didn’t know about it. Someone came in and saw me and said “I know what’s wrong with you” and threw me a bag. And I was fine afterwards. So I just went down a slippery slope. I got clean but then certain things happened and I relapsed. I’ve been back into drugs for about three years, but I’m on my way out of it again now.

It must be hard to get clean.
I find it harder the longer I go without. People say “Oh, it gets easier” but I don’t agree, because you get more complacent. When you’ve been off it for a bit you think “Ah, well one won’t hurt”, and that’s when you start again. You have one and then another and then you’re back where I am.

What do you do in your spare time?
I love outdoor stuff. Me and a mate do lots of daft stuff together. We’ve been up Snowdon and the next thing we’re planning to do is to go up Ben Nevis. I like doing outdoor stuff because I get away from everything and drugs don’t even enter my mind when I’m doing stuff like that.

Isn’t it dangerous sometimes?
Sometimes. I like kayaking but I nearly died before Christmas. I was going down a river in Burton upon Trent and I capsized because I hadn’t packed my kayak properly. I panicked and went into hypothermic shock. I don’t know why I panicked, I’ve done some basic survival courses and I’ve capsized loads of times before, but I just did.

Do you have a message for your customers?
I just want to thank them for helping all the Big Issue North sellers. A big thank you for buying and reading the magazine, because without them we wouldn’t be here.

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