John Williams, 52, Waterstones, Swansea
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Lockdown was a struggle for me. It was lonely. The only time I went out was when I had to get food but even that was hard sometimes. I’d lost my income and didn’t have the money to pay for it. Also, some days I don’t like big crowds and I don’t like enclosed spaces so I had times when I was unable to move and didn’t want to get out of bed. I just shut the curtains and thought, I’m not going nowhere. But then the next day I’d be fine, I’d go out to the garden and sit there all day.
Just before lockdown I managed to get a one-bedroom flat in Swansea after being in a hostel for a year. It’s better, a lot nicer. It helps with my mental health but sometimes I do miss the hostel as I had support 24/7 there. I miss that side of it. But overall it’s better. I can cook what I want, get up when I want, go to bed when I want. I’m still furnishing it but I’m getting there slowly. I’ve got a chair and a bed but I still need a settee. It feels like my place now. The last time I had a place I had a friend staying and when I was out doing The Big Issue during the day there was drug dealing going on in the flat. It ended up being raided and I wanted to get away for my own safety. I took one suitcase and came to Swansea because my mum is here. But I had to leave the full flat and so now I’m starting again.
My mum lives in a nursing home, she’s got dementia. It’s hard but they do this thing now and again where they put up a gazebo in the garden and it’s all socially distanced. You can’t go into the home and you can’t bring gifts but you can see your mum.
I went to see her yesterday. With coronavirus, I think she understands that there’s something happening but that’s it. But the home has a couple of iPads so they were able to call me to talk to her on a video call.
The Big Issue got me a laptop, and that’s been great. My girlfriend’s in the Philippines, I was using my phone all the time to call her and the battery was dying every day. It makes a difference to see her on the bigger screen now. It’s hard for her because they’ve had a worse lockdown than we have but they’re starting to get back to normal now. We met online about five years ago, we gelled and that was it. I’ve been out there a couple of times but at the moment you can only get to Manila, the other airports aren’t open for tourists. Hopefully one day I’ll up sticks and move out there.
Since I’ve been back on my pitch I’ve seen a few of my old regulars. They looked at me and said, you’re back! They’re all happy to see me. Sales have been a bit slow though. Normally on a nice Saturday the place would be heaving but it wasn’t.
I don’t know if people are still wary or if they’ve got used to buying things online. But I feel confident it’ll pick up. When I was off the streets during lockdown The Big Issue used to contact me to make sure I was OK and ask if I needed anything.
I got food vouchers, which were a godsend. I personally feel I wouldn’t have been able to manage without them. And you knew they were always at the end of the phone.
I called them a couple of times when I was struggling, just because I wanted to hear a friendly voice.
Image: David Wagstaffe
Waterstones, Oxford Street, Swansea, UK