Big Issue vendors share writer letters to their younger selves, including (clockwise from top left): Will Herbert in Islington, Peter Cowles in Darlington, Maria Cirpaciu in Edinburgh, Jim Hannah in Norwich, Dave Martin in London, Mary Daly in Weston-super-Mare, and Simone Gill in Plymouth.
Every week in The Big Issue magazine, we ask famous faces from around the world what advice they would give their 16-year-old self.
This week it’s different. It’s over to vendors to share some of their words of wisdom.
Maria Cirpaciu, 24
M&S, Morningside, Edinburgh
Work hard to support your family. You will move to Scotland when you’re 18 for work and it will be great. The Big Issue will help you be part of a community and you will meet nice friends in Morningside.
Martin McKenzie, 40
Stroud Green Road, London
You know what, you’re kind of on the right path anyway. You’re a bit mad, still trying to find yourself and you’re clubbing every night. But stay in work and stick in at The Big Issue because it will give you structure.
Reg Mercer, 68
Clock Tower, Bangor, Wales
Keep your head down and get on with it.
Richard Todd, 55
Boots, Exeter High Street
Don’t drink. It doesn’t suit you.
Mary Daly, 47
opposite WH Smith, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset
At 16 I left foster case, so I’d say to the young Mary: don’t mess with the wrong people because things will end up going wrong. Then later on if people see you selling The Big Issue and tell you to get a job you should just ask them what they think you’re doing. But I’d also tell her she will have kids and a great friend called Den who will really want her around.
John Williams, 53
Co-op, Killay, Swansea
Listen to your parents’ advice because they know best. Listen to your peers too. I wish I had done that in my 20s when they were telling me don’t do anything to excess. I wish I had listened. Try to keep yourself out of trouble, too, and be honest.
Gordon Davidson, 59
Co-op, Telford Street, Inverness
When I think of advice to my younger self I think of my own version of an old saying: the best things in life aren’t things, they are people.
Slavi Slavov, 69
I was too crazy when I was 16. Too wild! But I got the support from my father and I kept drawing, I kept painting and now it’s still part of my life. I know the young Slavi would be happy to know he’d go on to study art and sell paintings. And have art all his life as something he loved.
Simone Gill, 42
Tesco, Plymouth, Devon
Remember your family. Your mum is probably the best friend you’ll ever have. And always treat others with kindness and respect.
Simon Gravell, 53
The former Topshop, Norwich city centre, Norfolk
Save your money. At least 25 per cent of the money you earn. I never saved when I was younger and I was earning a wage packet. The second I got it I went out and spent it. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it.
Theatre Royal, Plymouth, Devon
I would tell myself to be a Big Issue vendor earlier in life! I think the skills you learn and the confidence you get are so important and certainly better than the factory I worked in when I left school.
Steve Dixon, 53
Tesco, Durham, County Durham
Stay clear of cigarettes, stay clear of drugs and stay on the right side of the law. Everything will work out, it always does. You’re going to have two grandsons one day and you couldn’t be happier about that. Looking at my youngest grandson now is just like looking at my younger self.
Jim Hannah, 62
Dove Street, Norwich, Norfolk
I should have gone to school and got an education. It’s sort of a regret – the only subject at school I was good at was arithmetic, the rest didn’t interest me. But I wouldn’t change much in my life. I’ve enjoyed it. But if I’d known what I know now I wouldn’t have had the bottle. That was my way of coping with my wife’s death and I thought it was the right thing to do at the time. But not now. You’ve got to have someone around you, that’s what I learned.
Ian Knowles, 71
M&S, Aberdeen, Scotland
The young Ian’s got a long life in front of him. If he’s ever unemployed I’d urge him to get himself badged up and sell The Big Issue until he can get a regular job. Get your self-respect, go to college and further your education. Then from there you could find a good life for yourself.
‘Billy’ Mark Scott, 25
New George Street, Plymouth, Devon
I would tell my younger self just to focus on myself. Friends come and go and you can’t pick your family, but it doesn’t mean you have to be involved with them. Just keep working hard.
Colin Davey, 46
High Street, Broadstairs, Kent
The first thing I’d say is, don’t do that! But seriously, I’d tell him to listen more to what people are saying because like all young people I thought I knew best… and I didn’t. When you look back you realise that they were talking a lot of sense, and maybe if I’d listened more maybe I’d have progressed in life a bit quicker and not ended up where I have been in the past.
Peter Cowles, 39
Darlington, County Durham
I would tell my younger self to do things differently. I’ve had a lot of things happen in my time. It’s been really tough. If I could go back and change a few things, then I would. I’d like to change the path I took. I wish I’d gone down the right road. I was just in a bad place at the time, but I’m in a better place now. I’ve got Tracey [from the Big Issue frontline team] helping me, keeping me on the straight and narrow. She’s helped me out a lot.
Will Herbert, 61
Upper Street, London
Cut the drinking out mate. Then my life would have been so much more secure. I also had a racist attack and I was cut across my face. That’s why I went on the drink – I didn’t know how to deal with it. I was paranoid, I blew all my friends out. I didn’t know what was wrong with me at the time. Since then things have definitely changed. The Big Issue has helped me, it got me talking again. Got me mixing again. It built up my confidence, because I had zero confidence.
Dave Martin, 59
Tesco Brook Green, Hammersmith, London
Get an education. It’s so important, especially when applying for jobs. And as an artist you tend to think that no one’s going to like your work but you need to show it – there will be people who like it.
When most people think about the Big Issue, they think of vendors selling the Big Issue magazines on the streets – and we are immensely proud of this. In 2022 alone, we worked with 10% more vendors and these vendors earned £3.76 million in collective income. There is much more to the work we do at the Big Issue Group, our mission is to create innovative solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunity for the 14million people in the UK living in poverty.