Our vendors: Sharon Tummon (The Big Issue, Christchurch, UK)

INSP is working with The Big Issue  and Big Issue North this week for #VendorWeek celebrations. We have a slew of famous faces and business types out selling the magazine as a way to break down barriers and promote the work of street paper vendors. It’s also a vital fundraiser for INSP to support our work year-round.

We were in London on Monday and will be in Glasgow and Edinburgh on Wednesday and Thursday. Why not come and say hello? Or sponsor our chief exec, who will also be selling the magazine?

In this week’s #ourvendors interview, we meet Sharon, who has been selling The Big Issue on and off for more than a decade.

Interview by Adrian Lobb, The Big Issue (UK)

I’ve lived in Bournemouth all my life. It’s my home, I know it, I feel safe here. I grew up in the middle of the West Cow estate, which was a tough place to live, but you learnt quickly.

Photo by: Simon Muncer

I have been involved with The Big Issue on and off since the early 2000s. Before that I had a great job at the British Heart Foundation. I’d started off as a volunteer and ended up assistant manageress. Things were looking up but then I had a breakdown after coming out of a very abusive relationship.

My partner left me. It was a relief at first. But I had spent seven or eight years being told what I could wear, where I could go and what I could do. At the age of 22 I had all this freedom suddenly and didn’t know what to do with it. I went a little bit wayward.

I found out he’d got his mistress pregnant, and finding out she was having the one thing I always wanted – I lost the plot. That’s how I ended up homeless.

I had a bit of a drink and drug problem, I had no job and no way of making money. Then I talked to Big Issue vendors who suggested I got badged up.

At first I didn’t take to it. The abuse you sometimes get is very different from working in a shop. But I stuck with it and I found out it offers much more than just buying and selling magazines.

With the help of The Big Issue I got a flat in Southbourne after being homeless for years. It is because of The Big Issue that I got off the drink and the drugs. They put me in contact with people I needed to speak to, made sure I got to appointments and supported me through the process. They are always there for you.

My relationship is a bit complicated but we have been together for about 20 years. I have a stepson who calls me mum, which I really like. I’ve just become a grandmother for the second time. I love being a granny.

I really want to say thank you to my customers. They check I am all right and can even tell when I’m not truly happy and am just putting on a smile. I want to thank them for accepting me for being me – they are some of the few people who do.

If I won the lottery… I would go and live in Madagascar. One end is green, the other is rocky and I would love to travel from one end to the other. I like all wildlife shows, and it was a David Attenborough programme that got me interested.

My ambition… I have gone back to college on a customer service course through The Big Issue. When I first left school I went into retail but this gives me something up-to-date on my CV when I look for work.

On My Pitch… I am between two pitches. I work outside the 99p Store some days and the rest on Southbourne High Street, outside the key-cutting shop. I’m there from around 10am until 6pm when the shops shut.