Simon Gravell, 51, Topshop, Norwich
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I was made redundant from a job where my accommodation was part of my salary. That was about eight years ago. I went on a bit of a jolly but eventually the money ran out and that’s when I realised, bugger, I haven’t managed to find a job. Then I ended up homeless. I was in a tent and I quite enjoyed it because for the first time in my life I had a bit of freedom. I could go where I wanted and it was quite liberating.
I went from eating brambles and apples off trees to selling The Big Issue and after my first day going out and treating myself to a steak dinner. I took to it right away because I used to work in sales, and nine tenths of selling The Big Issue is being able to communicate at all levels. I love this job, I really don’t care on the days I make 30 quid as long as I’ve had a nice time out selling them.
I’ve travelled around the UK selling The Big Issue but I kept coming back to Norwich. To be honest, I fell in love with somebody I met on my pitch. That’s the reason I decided to settle down. Her name’s Alison and she’s the best thing that ever happened to me. She keeps me in check. I decided I’d had enough of travelling the country with my tent and I put some roots down.
I’m trying to set up an antiques business but things are a little slow on that front. I started off by going to a few auctions, buying bric-a-brac and selling it on. Some weeks you do fantastic but then I can go four or five weeks only selling a couple of £10 items. The best find was a little decanter. I picked it up for next to nothing thinking it was a bath salt bottle, probably from Lush. I put a £10 tag on it and one of the other dealers said, you know what that is, don’t you? I said, it’s a bath salt bottle. He went, no – it’s a Napoleonic, hand-etched brandy decanter! Turns out it’s Dutch Napoleonic, worth about £100.
There’s a busker in Norwich called the Puppet Man, he’s quite a legend. He came up one day and bought me this hat off a charity stall. I thought, oh bless him, and I put it on. Somebody walked past and said it was a great hat and bought a magazine! And I noticed people were commenting on it, so it stays on all the time now. It’s a bit smelly today because it got wet yesterday.
On behalf of the Norwich Big Issue vendors I’d like to thank Don and Rachel for all the support. They’re an older couple and they buy magazines off all of us and help us out. They were guarantor for me when I got my accommodation. Norwich people are really fantastic but footfall is falling, it really is. My sales figures of late have been as high as 38 in a day, but sometimes it’s as low as three. It’s a real challenge, but that’s just the way it is.
Photo: Nic Donovan
Topshop, Haymarket, Norwich, UK