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Terminally ill man with weeks to live starts selling The Big Issue to support his two sons when he’s gone

Dave Besley, who was honoured for his bravery after surviving the Basel air disaster in 1973, started selling The Big Issue after his leukaemia diagnosis to support his disabled sons.

A terminally ill man has become a Big Issue vendor so he can leave a lasting legacy for his family.

Dave Besley, from Bristol, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia at the end of 2021 with doctors giving him months to live.

The 67-year-old – a survivor of the 1973 Basel air disaster – took up selling The Big Issue alongside sons Mark, 32, and Shane, 29, after moving from Devon to Bristol to be closer to his family.

Besley hopes selling the magazine will provide an income and a way to meet people for his sons, who both have learning and behavioural difficulties, once he has passed away.

“I wanted to come back to my family in Bristol because I have got my wife and my two disabled boys living here,” said Besley.

“I decided on The Big Issue so we can actually get out there and meet people, talk to people and get some money for the rest of their life when I’m gone. I decided I wanted to do something instead of sitting on the settee shrivelling up and waiting to die. It was an outlet for me to carry on with something and to have something to fight for.

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Big Issue vendor Dave Besley
For Dave Besley, selling The Big Issue is a chance to get an income for himself and his sons and a chance to spend his final days meeting people in Bristol. Image: Exposure Photo Agency

“This magazine doesn’t only help homeless people and people with no money. It’s for people like me who’ve got disabilities so they can be a part of the community, not just living quietly in a corner.” 

Besley was living in Torquay in September 2021 when he discovered bruises on his body and went for tests in hospital.

Doctors diagnosed him with leukaemia and gave him the devastating news that he had up to six months to live.

That sparked a move back to Bristol and he started selling The Big Issue in October, outside Caffè Nero in the Clifton area of the city. His sons took up pitches in nearby Shirehampton and Redland respectively.

“It’s been very good so far. There are nice people out there, the public is very supportive. They’re very outgoing, they want to know how you are, how you’re coping and what’s going on,” said Besley.

“I try to explain what The Big Issue is and that it’s a hand up – everybody has their own reasons for selling. For some people it’s just for money. For some it’s something to do. For some it’s just to hang on in life.

“I’ve been looking after my two boys most of my life and I’ve got them selling their magazines out there. They’re learning to cope with other people, they’re not very good at mixing in and connecting to people.

“The magazine has given them an outlet. They can’t work so all their life they would be stuck in the house or doing nothing. It’s an outlet for when I’m gone so they’ve got something to hang on to and something they can do without being tied down too much.”

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Becoming a Big Issue vendor is also helping Besley explore more of Bristol with the city holding particular significance for him.

Besley was just 17 years old when he was one of 37 survivors in the 1973 Basel air disaster.

The ill-fated flight took off from Bristol Airport with 145 people onboard before crashing in the snow in Basel, Switzerland, on April 10, killing 108 people.

Besley lost his uncle in the disaster but managed to save seven others from the wreckage  He was later honoured for his bravery.Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the disaster and Besley is now hoping he will be able to live to mark the occasion.

“That’s what I’m fighting for,” said Besley. “There are only a couple of survivors left and I want to be there to pay my respects to the survivors in Switzerland and the people in England.

“I always felt that I should have been with the rest of them on the plane when they passed so I have a heavy connection with Bristol.

“You don’t realise what it’s like until you’re in one of these air disasters. You still see it every year. You can hear the crying, you can hear the plane roar, you see every little bit.”

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Chris Falchi-Stead, frontline director at the Big Issue, said: “Dave’s story is truly inspirational and our frontline team will remain with him and his sons every step of the way in order to support him in every way we can. 

“It’s incredibly tough out there for our vendors at the moment. The rising costs of food and energy and quieter high streets along with the colder climes are meaning a usually busy time for magazine vendors look increasingly bleak.

“Which is why we are urging people to give our vendors a fighting chance this Christmas and buy a magazine or a subscription from them. Every copy bought is £2 earned. Give our vendors a fighting chance this Christmas. Every copy counts.”

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Every copy counts this Christmas

Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Christmas. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Christmas.

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