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.
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.
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.