Rich, Marks and Spencer, Doncaster

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Tell us about your pitch.
I’m on Will’s old pitch. He was a vendor in Doncaster who died last year*. I’ve had quite a few people come up and ask where he is and I’ve had to tell them that he’s passed away. He was a friend of mine. If I had a question about Big Issue North or wanted to talk about stuff like that, I’d ask Will. I miss him. He was a good lad. 

“It’s not about the money, it’s the people. Even if they don’t buy it.”

How did it feel to take on his pitch?
To be honest, it felt extremely weird when I first started selling the magazine on it. There was one bloke, he’s a takeaway delivery driver, and when he makes a delivery people will tell him to keep the change. You know, 40p here, 20p there. It all adds up doesn’t it? Anyway, he keeps all that change in a bag and he comes with an envelope and he says to me: “Well this was for Will but you’ve just had the horrendous task of telling me that Will has passed away, so because of that, I’m giving this to you.” I’ve also had people come up to me and think that I’m Will. I’ve got one customer in particular who thinks I’m him, and it’s really hard because I’m sure she has dementia. My mum had dementia. I know the signs.

That must be really difficult.
Yeah. But you know, what if it makes her happy to think I’m him? I don’t know what to do really. When I was young and I lived with my mum, she would stay stuff like: “It’s Christmas!” and it would be the middle of August. But I wouldn’t argue with her or tell her she was wrong because it might stress her out. If that gave her comfort to think it was Christmas, then that was fine. 

How does it feel to be back after the lockdown?
Wicked! It’s not about the money. It’s about the people. Even if they don’t buy it, they stop and talk, or buy me sandwiches or whatever. There are some people who come up and just give me the money and don’t take the magazine. I had one customer who did that, had been doing that for a couple of years and then one day I said to her: “Please just take a magazine and read it – you might enjoy it.” She took it and she comes back the next week with a ten pound note in her hand and wanted three copies. I said: “I know it’s good but it’s not that good! What do you want three for!?” She told me that she’d read it and passed it to her friend and then her friend had read it and passed it to her friend. And they all wanted a copy. That was great. 

What’s changed for you in the last few years?
On 11 September this year, it’ll be four years to the day I ended up homeless. In that four-year period, I’ve gone from being homeless and rough sleeping, then being in a tent under the bridge in Doncaster, to being in a hostel and now in my own flat. I’ve got my daughter back as well. I was troubled before that. I hit rock bottom. But you’ve got to do that. Until you do that you’ll not properly attempt to fight back. I mean, I’d lost my daughter, I’d lost everything. There was nothing left. I had nowt else to lose and I really didn’t care. But I’m not that person I was before. I care now. 

What do you want in your life now?
I like selling the magazine. But yeah, I’d like to do something else, something more, one day. I wouldn’t mind going to college and doing something like psychology or sociology, mental health stuff – I’ve got really into that. People’s minds and how they work and the rest of it. 

And how’s your daughter doing?
She’s fifteen and she’s trouble. I worry that she’s a female version of me at 15. Hopefully she’ll be a bit smarter than her dad though and it’s not going to take her 20-odd years to learn what I’ve now learnt.  

What were you like as a teenager?
Let’s not go there! 

Do you have a message for your customers?
It’s down to us as the human race to look after each other. Stay safe. 

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