Six days a week, 52 weeks a year, Chris Ashall – along with his dog Taz – are on his pitch outside Selfridges in Manchester city centre. He’s been selling there for 18 years.
‘I enjoy selling the magazine. I meet all kinds of interesting people’
“I enjoy selling the magazine. Working gives me self-esteem,” he says. “I’ve got more about me than just sitting on the ground and begging. It gives me a reason to get out of the flat in the morning and I meet all kinds of different, interesting people. There is always something going on.”
Born and raised in Newton-le-Willows, Ashall, 51, expected to follow his dad into the nearby Parkside Colliery after leaving school, but shortly after he began his training the miners’ strike broke out. When Margaret Thatcher’s government began closing the mines, he took redundancy and found work with the Coal Board – travelling around the country to salvage equipment and make the sites safe.
“Most of my family was involved in the pit and the miners’ strike,” he says. “My dad was a miner and my mum was a cleaner in the colliery offices. My grandma was a pit brow lass – her job was to pick out the bits of coal from the tubs full of slag which came up to the surface.”
Ashall’s life grew more complex as time went on. He says he got in with the wrong crowd and ended up losing a flat in Wigan and sleeping rough for a year, eventually winding up in prison.
Twenty years ago he was involved in a major motorbike smash, which medics said he was lucky to survive. He was warned he may not walk again but proved the experts wrong. He lived in a series of hostels before securing a tenancy in 2006, which he still holds today.
Every day, he and Taz walk for more than half an hour from their flat in Beswick to buy copies of Big Issue North, followed by another 15-minute walk to their pitch. How much money he has determines how many magazines he can afford to buy that day. Business is not what it was – at his high point Ashall was once able to sell up to 15 magazines an hour but says vendors are now competing with smartphones and an increasingly cashless society.
He says: “It’s getting harder and harder to sell Big Issue North, and I’m trying to find other things to do but certain things are stopping me from moving on – one being my criminal record. It’s 15 or 16 years since I’ve been in trouble but that still really holds me back.
“Taz is 11 – I’ve had him since he was nine months old and he comes everywhere with me. He’s always barking and being naughty, but he loves being out and about. He brings me companionship and gets me out of the flat. Taz has regulars who come and feed him sometimes – some people just come to see the dog.
“We do get some abuse from a minority of passers-by but I’ve learned to let it go over my head. I just keep my mouth shut and let them say what they want. I get people shouting ‘get a job’ sometimes – that’s the best one.”