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Rodney Lyall, Sainsbury’s, Christchurch Road, Boscombe, Bournemouth

Rodney turned his life around 11 years ago, and now he’s helping others to do the same

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I don’t sell The Big Issue for the money, I do it to socialise with people. I’m a good salesman. Everybody’s a potential customer. The secret is to listen to people if they’ve got troubles and wish them a nice day. Some will come back and give us a couple of quid. That’s not why I wish them a nice day. Because I mean it when I say it, have a nice day. They talk to me about the cost-of-living crisis, their mum or dad or brother’s died. Quite gloomy but most of it is quite interesting. I give them money if they need money. It should be the other way around but it says in the Bible, give to paupers.

I’m quite religious. About 11 years ago missionaries were walking through town one day when I was drunk. They said come to church, we’ll read the Book of Mormon to you. They turned my life around. Money is not the answer – spirituality is the answer. I’ve been helping out at a foodbank for 10 years. It’s connected to the church. It’s very good meeting people and helping the community. I give people counselling when I’m doing The Big Issue and do the counselling when I do the foodbank. Donations have gone down at the foodbank recently. The trustees have had to put money in to buy products. The best items to donate are meat, tins of mince, sausages. Peaches, fruit juice, soap powder, toiletries. Canned goods for people who don’t have their fridges turned on.

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The area I sell in is a bit deprived. Most places are run down now anyway so it’s nothing out of the norm. I sell outside Sainsbury’s on the High Street. I’ve seen the drugs and alcohol getting worse. But they’re putting money into it over the next ten years. They’re refurbishing the shopping centre and building flats. I think it will work. You have to think positive. People blame the government but it’s not the government’s fault. It’s people who are responsible for keeping the place tidy, not drinking and not taking drugs. It’s my responsibility to change my life and it’s other people’s responsibility to change theirs.

I am proof that you can change. I’m 11 years off drugs. I’m working on my trauma in meetings. I was abused as a child. Counselling’s not a quick fix, it’s a lifetime journey. I pay for it myself, £65 an hour, but it’s worth it. Talk therapy, hypnosis. We have conversations like this: people say, ‘I wish I was rich and famous, life would be so much better’. But you find out that it doesn’t work for people, that it just makes people worse.

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I am quite famous. People know me. I’ve been on placards to promote The Big Issue. People would come up and say they’d seen me on a placard or on the news and ask for my autograph. I charge less for signed copies. I’d like to tell my customers that they’re awesome. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them. I’m the person I am today because of them.

Interview: Steven MacKenzie

Sainsbury's, Christchurch Road, Boscombe, Bournemouth, UK