I’ve mostly lived in Newcastle my whole life. I’m one of eight kids and come from a very blended family. I was 18 months old when my parents split up. I lived with my mum and four of my siblings. I know my dad wasn’t the best dad, but he tried his best. I didn’t have much contact with him. I talk to one of my older siblings now, but I’m not very close to my family.

I was a very sick child, in and out of hospital all the time. Mum had to help me first over my other siblings, so it was very difficult for them. Looking back, I’m grateful that my mum did the best she could. She’s very strong. My siblings thought I was the favourite, but I wasn’t. I just needed extra attention to be able to survive. If I could say one thing to my younger self, I would say, “Keep your chin up, things will get better”.

When I was growing up, my mum and I never really saw eye-to-eye. She was neurotypical and I wasn’t. It made things hard when I did something and she wasn’t able to understand why. We did the best we could to maintain that relationship. I moved out of home when I was 25, and our relationship got a lot better. Now I’m able to tell her stuff without the fear of being judged.

I left school at the end of Year 9 – I hated it. I celebrated when I left! Straight after school I had a bit of a break from everything. Now I’m studying Disability Services at Reach for Training, which is alright.

I started selling The Big Issue because work was very hard to come by. It’s always been difficult for me to find work. It can feel like nobody wants to hire someone with a disability. I have autism, which makes things difficult because people judge me. But I just take it one day at a time.

I’ve been selling The Big Issue for a few years. Before then I would stay at home and do nothing. My friend Andrew, who’s also a vendor, said, “Come and join us!” And I thought, You know what? Let’s do something that will make a positive difference. It was nerve-racking to sell for the first time. I was nervous about everything to do with it, but mostly how to deal with grumpy people.

I’m very close to Andrew and another vendor, Lynn. We go out for coffee, do lots of things. I call Andrew “Dad” and Lynn “Mum” – just as a “funny haha!” – because I’ve gotten that close to them. They’ve made me a stronger person. It’s lovely to make new friends. It’s good for your mental health.

I’d love to keep selling The Big Issue. My favourite thing is the people I come across, both customers and vendors. Having other vendors’ support has made a big impact on me. Especially Lynn and Andrew, and the inside jokes we have!

Emma sells The Big Issue at Marketown, Newcastle

Interview by Sinéad Stubbins
Photo by Simone de Peak

Published in ed#678