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Sociable climbers

 The Big Issue (UK) 13 December 2019

As the The Big Issue’s Hopes & Dreams campaign enters its third week, two vendors in Bournemouth explain how their daily interactions buoy them up to fulfil their dreams. (1028 Words) - By Staff Writer

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Big Issue vendor Kelvin Willmott Photo: Mark Johnson

"Shy" and "retiring" are not words anyone would ascribe to Kelvin Willmott, the grinning, upbeat Big Issue vendor in Bournemouth Square. With a constant chatter of season's greetings, witty banter and the occasional wink for the ladies, he's no wallflower.

But it's been a hard road for the 25-year-old, who has sold the magazine for six years after leaving an abusive home to live with his girlfriend, only to find himself on his uppers - and on the streets - when they split.

"Selling The Big Issue has given me a lot of confidence in talking to people, whereas before when I first started I was really shy," he says. "I was in a shell and didn't want to speak to people, I found it really hard to approach them.

"At first, I didn't enjoy it. People used to make me feel really small when they walked past me. But now when people completely ignore me it doesn't bother me anymore."

Kelvin, who grew up in Bournemouth, was badly beaten as a child and had to cope with an alcoholic mother. "Mine was a horrible childhood, to be honest, but I left and I got myself a girlfriend and a job. And in the odd contact I had with my father, he was proud that I'd done something for myself," he says. Working in a warehouse, he moved to Weymouth and life was good - until he found her in bed with his best friend.

With no intention of returning home he started sleeping rough in Bournemouth. The deep cut in his nose, missing teeth and scars come from this period - when sleeping in a shop doorway was more than enough reason for passers-by to decide to beat him up.

"I told my dad what had happened, but I didn't want him to think I was so down on my arse that I needed support," he explains. "I've not spoken to my mum in years but I get on brilliantly with my dad now. He did offer to let me live with him, but I turned him down. I'm 25 now, I don't want him to think I'm someone that needs to be looked after.

"I want him to be proud of me. I'm pretty stubborn like that - I like to do things for myself."

Starting with nothing but the clothes on his back, selling the Issue gave Kelvin the confidence to get back on his feet. "Without The Big Issue I don't know how I'd have coped," he says.

"I see mates from school who I say hello to and sometimes they ignore me. I used to think people were better than me because they have a proper job, but they're no better than me really. I'm still getting out there and making an honest living. People think we're begging - I'm not begging, I'm selling a product."

"When I was selling in Poole I had loads of regulars," he adds. "They'd always come over and have a chat. Its nice to know people out there care, even if they can't afford to buy the mag they can spend the time to talk a couple of times a week."

Now he's off the streets living in a bedsit, paid for with his own money, Kelvin wants to move on. "I want to be getting into college and doing something good with my life. I want to get out of this circle that I'm in," he says.

He plans next year to go to college to begin a two-year support work and counselling NVQ. "I've had a lot of problems myself, so I'd like to be able to work with people who have had a hard time," he explains. "I've been there, I've done that. I can help people who are in the same situation that I was in a few years ago."

After suffering a nervous breakdown last Christmas, 36-year-old Zeph has been steadily picking himself up ever since. "I split up with my partner and she moved away with our child. I just really couldn't hack life," he recalls. Without a word to his sister with whom he was staying, he packed a bag and left for Bournemouth.

"I just flipped. Nothing like that had ever happened before," he says. "I started binge drinking and smoking loads of marijuana. The pressure in my head was just too much. I felt out of control. I'd come to a stage in life where I felt I hadn't achieved anything, or everything I'd done had gone wrong. So I thought - to hell with responsibility, I'm going to escape and just do my own thing."

He went from living with his partner and son, Kern, in Canterbury where he worked as a carpet fitter and agricultural labourer, to living in a tent in some woods "with only foxes and badgers for company".

But Zeph knew this was never going to be a long term arrangement. "I quite enjoyed it for a while, my gap year," he laughs. "But you get bored, and after a while you start thinking too much and that's what leads to drink and drugs.

"Luckily I got out of that and pulled myself together, and selling The Big Issue really helped - there's lots of different folk to talk to and it keeps your mind off things."

Now in accommodation, Zeph has been saving money to put towards his landscape gardening business he intends to start up. The Big Issue Foundation has helped him find college courses - "I'll need a chainsaw licence and better IT skills, and I'll need some help with work experience and looking for grants" he says. "The Foundation is good for opening doors."

"But first I have to go to Kent and try and put a few things right, as it was me that messed them up. My boy misses me, and I miss him too."


Originally published by The Big Issue London. ©

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