Alan, Settle

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Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m 58 and I was born in Eire, but I was dragged up in Whitechapel in East London. I joined the army when I was young. I can’t say how old I was when I joined. I lied about my age to get in.

‘The people of Settle are the nicest, friendliest people I have met’

Where were you stationed?
I served in Northern Ireland as a driver. I was there from the mid-seventies. If I could still be in today I would be. I joined for life. But I was discharged on medical grounds after I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A Land Rover I was in exploded. I got off lucky – I only lost an eye. But I lost five good friends that day.

What happened after that?
They offered me a desk job but that wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to accept any help. I ended up losing everything – my job, my family, my home. I started drinking a lot – two bottles of vodka a day. But then one day, after many years of not really knowing what I was doing, I woke up a tent in Epping Forest where I’d been camping with some other ex-squaddies. I had half a bottle of vodka beside me and I threw it away. I knew that I just had to get my life sorted out and I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol since.

Do you know other people who have served in the military who have become homeless?
I could take you to meet at least 30 veterans that are living on the street. The problem is that often we don’t want to accept help from others. I have always struggled to accept help. I’ve always done things for myself, all my life, even when I was a kid, so it’s just part of me.

Does what happened in Northern Ireland still haunt you?
No. What happened there is behind me now. It’s the past and I don’t believe in living in the past.

Why did you come to the north?
I was offered a flat up in Halifax and I just moved up to take it. I’d previously sold the southern Big Issue magazine in Brighton, so when I came up here I found the office in Leeds and started selling again, first in Whitby and now in Settle. The place I got is OK but it’s damp and I’m going to have to leave soon because the landlord is going to do it up. I’m not sure where I’m going to go.

What’s Settle like?
It’s unbelievable. I’ve made more friends there in a few weeks than I have ever made in my life. I make the three-hour journey to get there on the bus every day because it’s such a good place. I’d love to move there, but I’d not be able to afford it. The people are great. When it was snowing, this bloke came up and bought all my magazines from me and then told me to go home. He even paid for my train fare. It’s got a real community.

What makes you happy?
Dogs. I love dogs. I volunteer for the RSPCA sometimes, dog walking, fostering or just collecting money. I had to give up my last dog because of my housing situation but as soon as I’m sorted I’ll get another one.

What would your motto be?
Get off your butt and get out there. Sort yourself out. People can only help you so far and then it’s down to you to do the rest.

Do you have a message for your customers?
The people of Settle are the nicest, friendliest people I have met in my life. It’s a privilege to be there with them.

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