Tell us about yourself.
I’m 27. I was backwards and forwards as a child between England and Belfast. There was a big family break-up when I was a child and I was looking out for myself by the time I was 16. This is the second time selling a street paper, because I sold The Big Issue in the south of England about six years ago. I was heavy on the drugs last time though. I was on speed, coke, Es, you name it, apart from smack and crack, which I’ve never touched and never will. I was selling the magazine to support my habit – that’s the truth. But I had a wee wake-up call in 2010, and I went back to Belfast and teetotalled off the drugs, off everything.
I’ve had a warmer welcome here in Leeds than I have in any other town
What happened then?
I was working as a fork lift driver after that. I’m a qualified fork lift driver, and I was working for five years for job employment agencies. But there wasn’t always work and I wasn’t getting enough money to pay the rent and it got to the stage that my landlord kicked me out. This is just a month ago. I lost everything that I’d worked for for the last five years. I couldn’t get any support in Belfast so I decided to come here to Leeds.
Why did you come to Leeds?
I was hoping to start again here because I thought I could get a better job here. I was supposed to get some money from a previous job which would have paid for a deposit on a flat but they messed me about, so I ended up selling Big Issue North. I’ve got family in England and another reason for coming back was to reconnect with some of them, but I didn’t want to go back down south. I think the people here in the north are a lot more open. I’ve had a warmer welcome here in Leeds than I have in any other town. I’m doing well at sales and I’ve already got a few regulars.
What family do you have?
I have a brother in the south of England. He’s younger than me and he’s just come out of the care system. I want to be about for him to make sure he doesn’t make the same mistakes I did.
Why did you use drugs?
I used drugs to try to block everything out. It doesn’t work as a blocker though – it just delays it. As soon as you sober up, bang, you’re back with depression and things like that. It’s easy to slip back. I do have the addiction side of me where if someone puts it in front me, it’s hard to say no. I have to be careful about who I socialise with and try and keep myself out of those situations, so that doesn’t happen.
Where are you living now?
I’m living in a homeless hostel at the moment. The guys in the Leeds Big Issue North office got me in there. I’m hoping to move from there soon though into my own place.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m going to sell the magazine until after Christmas and with the money I am earning I’m trying to re-educate myself a bit. The staff in the office are helping me get my CSCS card so I can work on construction sites. I want to get myself more qualified and then see where it leads. I need to concentrate on getting my life back together now. I’m making progress. It’s slow but sure, like. But I’m getting somewhere.
Interview: Christian Lisseman