Graham, Marks and Spencer, Ashton-under-Lyne

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Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m 55 years old and am from Manchester. I’ve been selling Big Issue North for about eight years now. I usually work seven days a week and I miss my regular customers. 

‘What am I looking forward to? Just getting back to work really’

How’s life been during the lockdown?
It’s been a struggle. I’m close to losing my house because I can’t afford to pay my rent. I don’t get many benefits, just some Personal Independent Payments because of my health – and I can’t pay rent out of that. It just about covers my gas, electric, bits of food. My main source of income was selling the magazine and so without that I’m stuck.

What are you going to do?
My landlord has been understanding but they’ve said if I can’t pay my rent they will have to take the house back. If that happens, my kids are going to have to go to my mum’s. I can’t go as well though because her house is not big enough. I’m not sure where I am going to go yet. Once I’m back to work I can save a deposit and get somewhere else to live. 

Tell us about your family.
I have twins who are four and my other two daughters are seven and nine. They spend a lot of time at my mum’s house at the moment, because she lives just around the corner. Their mum is away at the moment and that’s been stressful. She’s been away since Christmas Eve and she’s not due back until April. 

Why did you first start selling the magazine?
I had a bad accident years ago. I was working on a roof and I fell off. I snapped my legs and shattered my wrists. I was in a coma for nine weeks. Since then I’ve not really been able to work except by selling the magazine.

What’s kept you going during this last year?
I’ve not been through my door much to be honest – I’ve hardly been out. I’ve got that COPD – that’s why I was shielding. That meant I wasn’t able to come back to sell the magazine last year when vendors went back on the streets. I only worked the week before Christmas. I did go out recently through to get my first vaccine shot. 

How did the vaccination go?
It’s was okay. But I was rough for four days afterwards. I couldn’t taste any of my food and I slept a lot. But getting the vaccine was better than getting the virus.

What did you do with your time while at home?
Watched telly. There wasn’t much else to do. 

What are you looking forward to doing when things open up?
Just getting back to work really. And my partner coming back and then getting somewhere to live. I hope it will get better. It can’t get any worse, can it? But I worry that we will have another lockdown after this one, especially if people don’t have the injections. I would say to anyone who was hesitating about getting the vaccine that they have to do it, for the good of everyone.

Has Big Issue North helped during the last year?
Yes, they have helped as much as they can. They have given me some money to help cover some costs but, of course, it’s nowhere near enough. I know it’s been hard on the staff in the Big Issue North office. They have been getting calls from vendors asking for money and they can’t help everyone and they have to decide who they help and when. They can’t do everything if they don’t have the money to help. And they’re not selling magazines and so they are not making any money either, so things have been really bad. 

What have you learnt from the experience of the last year?
Don’t take anything for granted.

Do you have a message for your customers?
I look forward to seeing you all when I’m on my pitch, and I’ll be back as soon as I can. 

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