Jay Booth, 47, outside Santander, Plymouth

Plymouth Big Issue vendor Jay Booth is hanging up his tabard to go to rehab as he looks to put the tragedies of the past behind him

I’ve sold the magazine on and off for the last four years – the most recent stint has been about a year and a half. It’s been OK on my pitch but January is a bit quiet. This Christmas was not as good as last Christmas, people’s attitudes have changed since earlier in the pandemic, I think, and people’s financial situations have changed as well. I noticed the difference on Christmas Eve when I sold about half as much as the year before.

I’ve got a few regular customers and I do talk to them quite a bit on my pitch. I can be a bit of a therapist for some of them. They come along, empty out their problems, buy a magazine and get along with their day. I do actually enjoy that side of the job though – chatting to my customers. I also like people watching – working as a Big Issue vendor is great for that. I’m quite good at sussing people out, and I see all sorts every day.

I’ve been staying at a restart house in Mutley and I’ve been there about a year and it’s OK there. I’m making progress. I’ve had quite a tough time of it and that’s why I would give anyone the advice to be thankful for what you’ve got and make sure the person that you love knows you love them.

I learned that a few years ago. Back in 2018, my partner Fiona was killed and my mum Rosa died of cancer five weeks after that. And then I got with another a girl called Annie after that and she was killed the year after too. It was fucking tragic.  It was hard to get through. I tried to kill myself a couple of times after that. I’ve got two sons and I remember one of them coming round to my flat and being sat at the end of my bed, saying: “What are you doing?” I’m not very proud of it but it is what it is and it happened. But I’m still here. It’s just called life. That’s why I always tell people to be thankful for what you’ve for today. Because tomorrow you might not have it.

I’ve had a heroin problem for 20 years and my life has been centred around making money and getting heroin. I’m not going to lie about that. It hasn’t left me much room for hobbies away from selling the magazine. I like feeding the birds but that is about it. I’m definitely trying to address my heroin addiction. I want to move past my problem. I’ve got what’s called a welfare fund. My mum died of cancer a few years ago then left me quite a lot of money but it came with conditions. If I’m in prison I don’t get it. If I’m on Class A drugs I don’t get it.

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It has given me the motivation I need because at the end of the welfare fund I’m hopefully going to get a one-bedroom flat.

I’ve got a prescription which is reducing and I’ve been on a waiting list to go to a rehab centre in Bournemouth. I’m paying for the rehab centre out of the welfare fund and that was my big aim for 2022.

I’ve just heard the good news that I have got a place at the rehab centre so I am giving up The Big Issue and leaving Plymouth to go and do that. Thanks to The Big Issue and Sue in the office for all you have done for me over the years, all the bits and bobs you’ve helped me with. I’m looking forward now.

Interview: Liam Geraghty

Santander, Plymouth, UK

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