Shaun, Manchester city centre

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Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m 40 in September and I’m originally from Doncaster and I’ve sold Big Issue North on and off for a good few years and it’s always helped me make some money and sort myself out.

‘I have found a safe, quiet place out of the way, with some shelter’

Why did you start selling the magazine?
I got on drugs at a young age. When I was 18 my mum and dad said if I kept asking them for money for drugs they’d pack up and leave. I never thought they would, but when I did go and ask for money again I found an empty house. I didn’t find out where they had gone for two years. I first sold The Big Issue in Norwich. I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t want to do it at the time.

What got you on to drugs?
I was bullied as a kid – big ears, bog eyed. People used to take the mick out of me. But when I was young, about nine or so, I met
some lads whose dads smoked cannabis and so they used to nick it and smoke it. And it turned out I could smoke more than anybody else, so it was like a status. We’d go to raves and we’d all be wasted and people would be bigging me up, saying no one could smoke as much as me. 

When did you start using heroin?
It was just before my eighteenth birthday and I was at home. My mum and dad used to let me and my mates smoke weed at home in my bedroom as long as the window was open and we didn’t smoke when my grandma was visiting. That day my mate, well, my dealer turned up with something. It was only a tube, just a bit of something to smoke. He asked if anyone wanted to try it and all eyes turned to me because I had the reputation of being able to take all kinds of drugs. So it was sort of expected of me. I had one smoke and I said: “I know why they become addicted to this.” I bought a bag on my eighteenth birthday. After that, every time I had a bad day, I just went to use heroin. 

What happened then?
Eventually I found my mum and dad again because I had been hitting my grandma up for money and so my uncle took me to my mam’s house in Skegness. It was the first time I realised where they’d moved to. My brother was amazing. He walked me through it when I came off the heroin, stayed up with me all night when I was rattling. After that I got various jobs and travelled a lot. I’ve done all sorts. I’m qualified at loft insulating and at welding. I’ve done gardening and worked in factories up and down the country. 

How’s life now?
I haven’t used heroin for a good few years. I was clean for ages and I’ve spent more of my life off it than I spent using. But I am sleeping rough again now. 

How come?
I had a girlfriend in St Helens and for the last four or five years I have been her carer because she’s got severe mental health problems. I gave up a job and a flat to go and care for her. It’s been really stressful and I ended up getting ill myself looking after her. In the end I tried to get her sectioned because I knew she would either end up hurting someone else or herself, but no one would listen to me. I had to leave her and come to Manchester. I am living better now on the streets than I was when I was living with her.

Why did you come to Manchester?
I ended up here one time and I just liked it. The people are great so I often come back here when things get tough, although it’s changed a lot in the last couple of years. It’s a different beast now because of the drug spice. That has brought in a different feeling to the city and I avoid certain areas that don’t feel safe or where there’s a danger that I might get tangled up in drugs again.

Have you found a good place to sleep?
Yeah. I have found a safe, quiet place out of the way and there’s some shelter as well, which is great because there’s nothing worse than waking up when it’s been raining and all your stuff is wet. 

What do you like about selling the magazine?
It’s great when people come up and talk to me when I’m
on my pitch, even if they don’t buy the magazine. It can get lonely on the street. There can be days when I don’t speak to anybody and I can get a bit emotional with people when I do talk to them, like if I come into the Big Issue North office and a member of staff asks me the wrong question I start shouting and then end up crying. They let me get it out of my system and then it’s fine. 

Do you have a message for your customers?
I want to say thank you though to the people who do buy the magazine from me, because you help me live the life that I choose to lead. I think people who buy the magazine need to tell the people who don’t buy it to do so and not just drop money into a beggar’s cup. At least people who are selling the magazine are trying to work. 

What’s the plan now?
This is it. Sell Big Issue North until something else comes along. I’ve recently found religion and I’m learning all about that. But I don’t make plans. I tried having the whole family and steady job thing and that didn’t work out. It’s just not me. I’m happy doing what I do: selling the magazine and then going back to where I am sleeping and bedding down with a bit of baccy, a couple of small beers, some nice food and a good book to read. That’s a good day. I can’t imagine what’s coming next, but I know something will happen in my life that will set the ball rolling and I’ll end up at a train station or a bus station and I’ll move on to the next thing. My perfect job would be to get a motorbike, pass my test and go from city to city selling the magazine until I get bored of one place and move on to the next. If I could do that I’d be as happy as a pig in poop.

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