My name is Dariusz, I am 53 years old and I was a Big Issue vendor for 3 and a half years.

I am originally from Gdansk in Poland. Six year ago, I came to the UK for a holiday. I was only meant to stay for 2 weeks however I loved the UK so much, I never left.

I originally came to London and when I decided to stay, I got a job working in a restaurant. It was something to get my new life started and I was grateful for the work. However, after only a few months, the restaurant closed down. They offered to transfer me to another branch in Poole and I decided why not!

I relocated to Poole but unfortunately it was not very busy there either and it was a case of last one in, first one out. Someone suggested I would be able to find work in Bournemouth so once again I packed my bags and moved, determined to make my new life in the UK work. I was glad to soon get a job working at a local laundrette. The hours were very long, and I often worked 12-14 hour days. Although not ideal, I was grateful to have a job and be able to earn my way.

In Bournemouth I not only found a job, but I also found love. We moved in together and shared the rent however when our relationship ended, I struggled to pay the rent by myself. I was already working very long days at the local launderette to pay for half the rent. Now that I had to pay the rent in full myself, I had to use any savings I had to make ends meet. Eventually the savings ran out. During this time, I found myself in a dark place. I had previously had a problem with drinking and once again I turned to alcohol to make myself feel better. At the time, it seemed like the only way to cope.

Someone told me about a work opportunity in Portsmouth, so I travelled along the coast in search of opportunity. I was given a six-month contract working for a car company. It was basic work, servicing cars, but it was a regular income. Unfortunately, they were unable to renew my contract and I was once again without a job. With no prospects in Portsmouth, I decided to move back to Bournemouth as that is where I had been happiest.

On returning to Bournemouth I went to see the Salvation Army to see if they could provide any advice and guidance. I have always had a strong work ethic, so begging was never going to be an option for me. I always wanted to earn my way. The Salvation Army told me about The Big Issue. They told me where to find the office and helped me arrange an appointment to get set up as a vendor.

At first it was challenging to sell The Big Issue, and a major barrier was my English. Even though I had been in the UK for a couple of years I still struggled. The Big Issue Foundation were able to refer me to the Anglo-Continental School of English where I was able to begin English classes. I understand English quite well now but I am not always confident speaking the language.

I also had several health issues as a result of overwork, stress and the constant worry of my situation. The Foundation supported me to register with the St Paul’s homeless health care centre and access GP and dental services. I’d been getting regular headaches and the GP advised to book an eye test at the optician. I was prescribed new glasses and with the help of the Bournemouth team, I made an application to the Vendor Support Fund to part fund the cost. My application was approved, I got my glasses and very soon my headaches were gone!

At this time, I also knew I needed to address my relationship with alcohol. It had got so bad that I had ended up in hospital at one point as I was suffering from oxygen deprivation. I was down to 18%, a normal oxygen level reading is typically 95-100%. When it is as serious as this, it can interfere with heart, lungs and brain function, but I have been very lucky to have no long term effects.

Back in Poland, I had an issue with alcohol however I sought help when my son was young as I wanted to be a good father for him. I stopped drinking for 12 years but then, like I said, I started to drink heavily when all these problems were happening. As I was starting to get my life back on track, I decided it was time to stop drinking for good.

Thanks to a referral by the Foundation I was able to access an addiction treatment programme. Through their treatment programme, I was able to have therapy for 7 weeks. I had a lot to think about, I was ready for my life to go in a new direction and I am proud to say I have been sober for 18 months now.

Now that I was moving towards a healthier and happier life, I decided it was time to start looking for work. Selling The Big Issue was a stepping stone but I wanted to have a regular job with guaranteed income. With The Big Issue every day is different so it can be hard to plan and budget for the future when you are not sure how many magazines you will sell. As homelessness is on the rise and more people are sleeping rough and begging, it is more challenging to earn a living.

Sadly, homelessness continues to be on the rise nationwide and Bournemouth is no exception. According to the YMCA in Bournemouth, the number of rough sleepers has gone up by 300% since 2010. Bournemouth Borough.

I spoke to the team in the Bournemouth office and they helped me to complete a CV and covering letter which I handed in to recruitment agencies in the town. Bournemouth Council responded and I was able to pick up some seasonal work whilst continuing to sell the magazine.

Now that I once again had recent work experience, I decided it was time to look for more permanent work. I came across a position at a cosmetics factory and decided to apply. I was very happy to be offered an interview and was grateful that the Foundation helped me with interview practice. It all paid off because I got the job and started in June.

Having a regular job has given me the confidence to know I am back on track. It is a relief to have set hours and know how much money will be in my pay packet. I hope that I will be able to stay in employment now until I retire. Once I have been in this job for a while, I am not sure what line of work I would like to do next. Maybe after my photo shoot today I can become a model haha!

My life could have taken a very different turn at several points in my life. The Big Issue is a big help for people who struggle in life, that’s for sure.

The staff at The Big Issue don’t judge your circumstances, all ages and backgrounds sell the magazine. They provide an alternative to begging and that is a great thing. I think it is important to support The Foundation as they are really helping people who are trying to better their lives.

I don’t know what the future will hold but I am much happier now thanks to The Big Issue and The Big Issue Foundation.

We all go through hard times and it is much harder when you have no support system in place. A gift of £20 today can help ensure we are there to support Big Issue vendors like Dariusz in the future.

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