Charlie, Manchester City Centre

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How did you first come to sell Big Issue North?
In 2002, I landed in Manchester from prison. I’m from North Wales originally, and I relocated because I wanted a fresh start. I found Big Issue North and started selling, and I haven’t been to jail again since. If it weren’t for Big Issue North, 100 per cent I would’ve been back inside.

Big Issue North have helped massively. I’ve had two vouchers and a hardship payment

How has lockdown affected your income?
It’s been really tough. This would’ve been my seventh week in a new job. I put myself through college about three years ago. I studied plastering at Stockport College at 47 years of age. At that time, I was drinking like a lunatic, taking drugs. I managed to get my City & Guilds qualification, but I really, really struggled when I first came out of college to get any kind of work, and that was because of my behaviour, my drinking and everything. This time round, I got a job and thought “brilliant,” and now this.

So was the plan to stop selling Big Issue North and work full time as a plasterer?
That was the plan, yeah, but because I don’t have a driving license, that’s hindering me massively. Big Issue North helped me with a few tools, which was brilliant. About seven weeks ago, I got this job in Manchester on one of the sites and I got nearly to the end of my third week, but just before the end of the week, that was it – the site closed down.

Were you not eligible for furlough?
No, because it’s only through an agency, so I’m not eligible for anything like that.

What did you do then?
I know a lot of the lads who sell Big Issue North, and another vendor made me aware that the staff might be able to help in these difficult times, so I rang up the office. They’ve helped me massively. I’ve received two vouchers and a hardship payment.

What was your hardship payment for?
I’ve got a phone bill I’ve got to pay, I’ve got a computer bill I’ve got to pay, I’ve got my lights I need to pay for, and rent. I’m getting letters already from Stockport Homes saying I’m behind on my rent. It’s really hard. I was just trying to get on my feet, and now I’ve had this slap in my face. I need my phone and computer now more than ever. They’re not state of the art but they get me work. I don’t want to get rid of them. It’s taken me ages to get everything. The support I’ve had from the office has just been really helpful.

Are you worried about the future?
I am. I’m worried about what will happen, because if this carries on much longer, what will I do? I put in for benefits as soon as I found out I couldn’t go back to work, but it will take a while for it to come through. Normally, if my work fell through I’d just go back to selling Big Issue North, but now I can’t even do that. I’ve got my tools here that would get me to work and I look at them every day. When I was at college, I was drinking and everything but I got through it, I did it. It was only me who could do it, and I did, but now I can’t work. It’s heartbreaking. It’s frightening me to death because I don’t want to go back to my old ways.

What have you been doing at home to fill your time?
Bleaching everything! If I have to wash my hands one more time, I’ll go mad! Basically, tidying up at home and going down to my father-in-law’s. My girlfriend, Sally, is caring for her dad now because he’s got Lewy body dementia. It’s basically dementia tenfold, and that’s had a knock-on effect on the pair of us – it’s huge. He’s completely reliant on Sally. She’s there 60, 70 hours a week, pretty much all the time now. She’s a full time carer without any support or anything, and that’s had a massive knock-on effect on me. I sit here sometimes in the flat when she goes over to her dad’s and I just feel powerless. It’s so frustrating. I’d go to work tomorrow if they’d allow us.

Do you have a message for the people who are still supporting the magazine?
If it weren’t for you, the help we’ve had wouldn’t be possible. If it weren’t for you buying the magazine in the supermarket or online or making donations, it wouldn’t be possible, so thank you very much. Please keep supporting us – it’s a good cause!

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