Steven Cornthwaite, 39, Cross Street, Caerleon, Newport
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I was begging on the streets for money about seven years ago and someone came up to me and asked if I’d like to earn a legitimate income without getting into any trouble. It sounded absolutely great. I’d been in and out of prison between the ages of 19 and 24 and then I was sofa-surfing. I’d never had a job. School had been tough because my relationship with my mum was strained. We weren’t getting on so I decided to leave.
But now I’ve been selling The Big Issue for the past seven years mostly, I had one year off. It’s really made a difference to my life, it’s brought a change for the better. I feel much more confident now and I can speak to people. I’m living in a room in a supported place for homeless people in Newport. It’s really good, I’ve been there two years now and doing The Big Issue helps me manage money to pay my rent and bills. For the first couple of months it was a bit daunting, not knowing anyone, but after that it got easier. For 25 years I hadn’t had no one in my life and then I had to start communicating with people again.
It will start to feel more like home in the next couple of months when I get the keys to my flat. This is the whole idea, you eventually move from a room into your own flat. I don’t know when it’ll be though because everything’s on hold because of lockdown. It could be before Christmas but if not I’m hoping it’ll be March at the latest. I’m excited, but also I’ve been here for so long it’s going to be a big change for me.
I’m going to keep selling The Big Issue for as long as I can. My pitch has got really quiet because people are social distancing, but to be honest my sales were going down two years before lockdown so I’ve been struggling. I have good relationships with my regular customers but I’m in a bad way with type-1 diabetes so I just can’t stay out that long any more. I haven’t got any energy, it’s a job getting out of bed. I only got diagnosed about three months ago, during the lockdown. I went without eating for weeks, just drinking energy drinks full of caffeine and sugar. I nearly died, they say I’m lucky to be alive, but I was in a coma for two days.
I didn’t know I had diabetes at that point but since then I’ve been trying to put a bit of puppy fat back on, just eating little bits here and there. It’s hard to keep on top of my readings, if I have too much my readings go too high and if I don’t have enough I go into hypo. There’s nowhere to do my readings when I’m on my pitch either. It’s hit me really hard, my eyesight’s gone all misty and I’ve got no sense in my legs. I think my energy levels will come back eventually, but I just can’t do eight hours on my pitch any more. Being out in the fresh air is one of the best things for my senses though, I go out for a bit of exercise because there are some nice places near my pitch. If I want to take a break I can just go over to the Roman barracks or over the fields, have something to eat to get my energy levels up then have another go for a couple of hours.
Me and my mum got back in contact at Christmas time. At first I rejected her because I’d been away for that long I didn’t know how to cope with it. But she kept on coming down every weekend and it got easier and easier and easier. I’ve got a sister too and I met my niece and nephew for the first time in January. We had those three months then coronavirus kicked in and I haven’t seen my mum now for six months. We call twice a week but I can’t wait to see her again.
Photos: David Wagstaffe
Cross Street, Caerleon, Newport, UK