Lawrence, 58, outside Marks & Spencer, Chiswick, London
Lawrence recently featured on a digital billboard as part of a Big Issue campaign
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I was in a really rough patch when I started selling the magazine all those years ago. I was living in a squat in the Nineties and a guy came down to London from Barrow-in-Furness called Billy. He got quite a few of us on to it. It seemed like a way to help you out to help yourself. I did a couple of years then and a couple in the 2000s. When you come back to The Big Issue there’s no judgement, no palaver.
Before I sold The Big Issue I graduated from university in politics and administration and I worked as a sub-editor for a national newspaper. I fell into it after university after I took up a traineeship as a proofreader. It was the Eighties, so it was long before spellcheck and I remember getting copy about the miners’ strike and from reporters in the Falklands. It was quite a buzz when you’re in a full room of people screaming and shouting but it was fun. When you put the paper to bed there was no feeling like it.
In the past I have struggled with alcoholism. I managed back in the Nineties to get into rehab with a grant from The Big Issue Foundation, which helped. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was continuing on a path where I was literally just killing myself. A couple of times I’ve slipped but I’ve kept at it. I’ve handled it through various shocks like losing people and I’m in a good place, as they say.
For the last two years I have been sofa-surfing. It was really difficult during the pandemic, you’ve got to thank your friends for putting up with you and try not to get on people’s nerves too much. After a while you go, “I’ll give him a break and go somewhere else.” I am working towards getting my own place. I’m knocking on housing offices’ doors every now and again to say I’m still here. I’ve been on council waiting lists for four years and it’s just a process of grinding, grinding and grinding away.
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Away from my pitch I’m into my football and I’m a cockney Red, I support Manchester United. I’ve always been a fan since George Best was playing when I was a kid. I get called a glory hunter and all sorts of stuff, but I was supporting them when they were in the second division. It hasn’t always been all Cantona and Ronaldo. I think it’s going to take two or three years before the current team can win something again. It’s going to take major surgery.
I must admit The Big Issue has been good for me. Recently I was on a giant digital billboard outside the Westfield shopping centre as part of a Big issue campaign. It was mad. The experience of filming and the photography was really interesting. Being at Westfield on a massive billboard and being underneath it was surreal, but it was fun.
I’ve sold in different places across London since, from Fulham to Pimlico tube station to London Bridge. This time I’ve been selling for about four years in Chiswick. The mix of people I meet are the bit I enjoy the most. The money helps, of course, but you get a bit of banter too and you realise that there are good people out there. There’s a sense of routine with selling the magazine and it does keep you focused too. I’d like to thank my regulars for their custom over the years, it’s appreciated. Some make me food parcels or donate a warm jacket over winter. Sometimes you feel like someone has embraced you into the community.
Interview: Liam Geraghty
236 Chiswick High Road, London, UK