Charlie (and Monty the dog), Manchester city centre

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What was your childhood like?
I was born in North Wales. And for the first 10 years my life was good. But then my dad had a brain haemorrhage and nearly died. That’s when things started going wrong. My mum buggered off with another fella and I went to live with my nan. I started smoking pot by about 14, started drinking, hanging around the wrong people. I started shoplifting just because that’s what people were doing. I did OK at school and got a job on a building site. And then when I was 21 I started using heroin.

What happened then?
After that I was in and out of jail for petty crime. My last and longest stretch was about 10 months and I was sent to Lancaster Castle. There was a 12 step programme there and I went to the prison rehab. I did well and got through it and they settled me in Manchester. I don’t use heroin anymore – I haven’t done for years. But I have battled with my drinking for a long time.

How did you come to sell Big Issue North?
I’ve been selling the magazine for about 15 years now. I started when I got out of Lancaster. I was in a supported living place run by the charity Nacro. The bloke next door introduced me to the magazine. I got badged up and have been selling pretty much ever since.

What has selling the magazine done for you?
It’s kept me out of trouble, massively. If the magazine wasn’t here and I hadn’t started doing it when I came to Manchester, I’m pretty sure I would have started shoplifting again and ended up back in jail. For me it has served a massive purpose.

Tell us about your drinking.
Alcohol is so devious. You just have one or two drinks and before you know it you are back drinking loads again. The way I was when I was drinking a lot – it’s not acceptable. I’m not a happy drunk and I know it’s been pretty grim for my partner Sally, which I hate thinking about. I’m 44 and it’s time to grow up. I don’t want this life any more. Now I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s given me hope. If you would have told me a year ago that I was going to be at college and I could be sober, I’d have said you were having a laugh. I feel like I’ve woken up from a nightmare.

What college course are you doing?
I’m doing a plastering course. It’s brilliant. I want to finish my course, get a job and save up to live in a bigger house because Sally and I are in a flat at the moment and we need more space really.

What makes you happy?
Being at home, being with Sally. We’ve been together for 10 years now and we’ve supported one another through a lot.

Tell us about your dog.
We have had Monty for three years now. He came from a friend of Sally’s. We love him. He’s another heartbeat around the place. He cheers you up. We’ve got a 10-year-old house cat as well, called Custard.

Do you have a message for your customers?
Thank you for supporting me all these years, for buying the magazine and for not giving up on me.

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