Andrew, Next, Manchester

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Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m 46 and I’m originally from Bolton, but I live in Manchester now. I’ve only been selling Big Issue North for a few weeks, but I also used to sell it about 10 years ago.

‘Selling the magazine keeps the bailiffs away from the front door’

Why have you come back to sell again?
I got some benefits sanctions, which took about 18 months to clear altogether. I didn’t have a penny to my name and I was asking my family for money and getting in debt with my electricity, council tax and things like that. Selling the magazine keeps the bailiffs away from the front door. 

Why did you get sanctioned?
I missed a few appointments at the benefits office. I didn’t do it deliberately, but I forgot that I had them. I have trouble remembering things. I can remember things that happened 10, 15 years ago fine, but ask me what I did last week and I struggle. These days I leave myself notes on the fridge and even my bedroom door to remind me of things. 

Do you enjoy selling the magazine?
Yes. People have been so nice since I started selling again. Also, when I’m in my flat, not doing anything, it can lead to bad habits. I was going out on a weekend begging and I wanted to get out of that. At least this way I’m earning my money. It makes me feel proud of myself and respect my money more. Someone said to me the other day: “You know that street beggars make more than you, don’t you?” But I’m not going to sit down and ask for money. I’m better than that. I’d rather make less money but be much happier because I’ve been out and earnt it. 

What was your childhood like?
My upbringing wasn’t so good. My mum was OK but my dad was violent. I ended up in and out of care. When I was young, I was doing solvent abuse, then I started smoking a lot of weed and taking amphetamines. And when I was about 12, 13, I went into a life of crime, shoplifting, things like that. I got sent to young offenders and then adult prisons. I think what really sent me over the edge was when my mum died. I was in custody when she died. They let me go to the funeral with police officers, but I was handcuffed at the time and I couldn’t carry the coffin into church. By about 10 years ago, I was a full-blown heroin addict. I woke up one morning in a dirty squat with a syringe still in my arm. That was the lowest point in my life. After that I knew I needed to stop – that I couldn’t live like this anymore. I got clean and I haven’t touched that stuff since. Addiction is going to last forever no matter what. I still get those thoughts in my head from time to time but I shake it off now. 

What are you doing on Christmas Day?
I’ll hopefully be with my brothers and my sisters. I’m lucky that I’ve got that support behind me.

What do you hope for in the future?
I’d like to get a job somewhere else one day, but I don’t think I’m quite ready for full employment yet. I’ve done a lot of voluntary work in the past, in places like the Booth Centre, helping people who are homeless. 

Do you have a message for your customers?
I want to wish them a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year, and say thank you for your custom. I think it’s important that people support all the vendors at this time of year. I don’t understand why people have a problem with Romanian vendors. Some of them have a much harder time than the rest of us. To me, they are my workmates, my colleagues. We’re all the same.

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