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Will Payne, Better Food, St Werburgh’s, Bristol

Will is a passionate environmentalist. He’s also a poet and novelist, with a taste for reggae and punk

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I’m lucky, I have an absolutely amazing pitch. St Werburgh’s is gorgeous. Some communities are fragmented [but] here it’s very together. A lot of people are quite affluent, but they’re also very nice, very giving as well. I’m charming to everybody. Whether they buy or not, I’m always the same. I’m a chataholic. I chat away all day. I know everyone’s dogs and all their kids and it’s great. I’m a passionate environmentalist. I’m one of the original members of Reclaim the Streets [which campaigns for community ownership of public spaces]. So being outside Better Food suits my ethos as well because they’re very ethical. I’m a vegan and they do a lot of vegan food and the staff are incredible, like a family.

I’ve sold The Big Issue three times, but I’ve had the most amazing jobs as well. At music festivals I manage my own teams doing night shift, cleaning up the sites. The best festival in the world is Knockengorroch [in south-west Scotland]. You can take kids and dogs, it’s four days of amazingness. I get to see loads of the acts. One of my favourite bands, because they splice genres, are Dub Pistols. They sing about what’s happening on the streets. What’s wrong with the country. I like reggae and punk because they speak my language.

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I’m a poet and novelist myself. From when I was a kid, when I was five or six, words were going through my head at a million miles an hour. I started to write them down. I was born a natural wordsmith. I could write a book’s worth a night. I can write about anything. Mostly it’s the environment, nature and the sad, sick, sorry government.

This time last year I was manager of a campsite. Then the owner of the campsite died and it’s gone into limbo for a while. I’m the only one left, cleaning up the place and looking after it. After the owner died and the campsite was shutting down, I felt like my whole world collapsed. I lost my way. I was heavy drinking and I went really angry and dark. The Big Issue saved me. Every time I’ve needed it, The Big Issue has been like a rock. A regrounding. I was raging against the world and The Big Issue was like a beautiful comfort blanket. It got me back into myself. The staff in Bristol go above and beyond. They print stuff off, they’ll charge up my gadgets so I can have some comforts, because I don’t have any power where I live.

I read four or five books a week. I get most stuff from charity shops and walls. Bristol’s got a tradition of leaving stuff on a wall that you want rid of. I get most of my clothes and random tat all from walls. And I leave loads too. I believe things are getting better because people are starting to learn the value of stuff because things have got so mad. 

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More and more people are beginning to learn the value of physical things again, like books, records – they’re all making a comeback. People have had enough of the digital nonsense. My favourite saying in life is ‘It’s not how you look, it’s how you look’. In other words, it’s not how you’re dressed, it’s how you behave. That’s a typical Will-ism.

I’ve dabbled in politics here and there. I do a lot of the legwork and enthusiasm. I tend to not be the one who stands but I’m the one who stands next to the one who stands. I’m very formidable. If I get a bee in my bonnet I’m unstoppable. Put me into a situation and it’s sorted. I refuse to lose. One of my heroes nowadays is Mick Lynch and the union leaders. My wish is a fair pay settlement for all of those ­wonderful people.

I’d like to say that the staff at Better Food and the people of St Werburgh’s deserve as much love as I could send them. It’s a pleasure to know them all. I treasure them, literally treasure them.

Interview: Steven MacKenzie

Better Food, Sevier Street, St Werburgh's, Bristol, UK