Richard Todd, 53, Boots, Exeter High Street
I managed to get a caravan and I’m living in the woods at the moment
I was working as a lorry driver but on zero-hours contracts and just before Christmas the work was dropping off. All I was being offered was weekend shifts, like 1am on a Saturday or 11pm on a Sunday. I ran out of money so basically I was left high and dry. I was living in a house but I had to move out. I managed to get a caravan and I’m still living in it at the moment, in the woods.
The Big Issue is my only source of income now. Basically it means I don’t end up sleeping in shop doorways. I would be homeless without it. The driving work has left me with piriformis syndrome, which desk workers and drivers are prone to. It causes inflammation and a lot of pain. The left side of my foot is numb and it’s uncomfortable.
I thought if I tried to get some other work that didn’t involve sitting down then it might get better. Selling The Big Issue I’m stood there for four to six hours a day but it’s not getting any better. So I’m at a bit of a crossroads now, deciding what to do next.
When I lived in Ireland I was growing food for myself and my family and we would exchange it or sell it at the local market.
I used to be a landscape gardener. I just find things a lot harder and my disability, although it’s not completely debilitating, is causing me pain and discomfort. I studied organic horticulture in Ireland and I’ve done organic farming for about 10 years. I still have an interest in it and I’d really like to have my own garden one day. When I lived in Ireland I was growing food for myself and my family and we would exchange it or sell it at the local market.
When I was in Ireland I was with my ex-partner and my son and daughter. I built a round house and that’s when I started gardening. My children were born in Ireland and I delivered both of them. My son was like a wet bar of soap and I almost dropped him so after that I delivered him I thought, “No way do I want that responsibility ever again.” So we organised a midwife the next time but on the day she was late and the birth was progressing. In the end, after saying I never wanted to do it again, I ended up praying that she wouldn’t come in the middle of it because that would have been an intrusion on something that worked perfectly well itself.
My daughter is 18 now and my son’s 22. He’s in Plymouth doing a university course and my daughter’s in Totnes so they’re not far away from Exeter. Here on my pitch I’ve got a few regulars. There’s a lady who’s partially sighted called Dorothy. And there’s another lady called Caroline who buys me a cup of tea. Starbucks are very helpful, they let me use the toilet. I’d really like to thank the people of Exeter for being so kind to me.
When I was driving, at weekends I’d be working the graveyard shift, sleeping in the day and I’d go through the whole week without seeing anyone. I was completely isolated, next thing you’re depressed because you don’t have a social life. I was buying beer and as soon as I came home I was drinking a four-pack every night. Then I realised that I hadn’t had a day without alcohol for two years. I’ve stopped that now, and I haven’t had a drink in 17 months.
Boots, High Street, Exeter, UK