Jack Osborne-Richardson, Bird & Blend, Park Street, Bristol 

Now that he's got a laptop, Jack is trying his hand at writing sci-fi, which he hopes to get published

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I’ve got some crows and pigeons that tend to follow me around when I’m on my pitch. Now the pigeons are so brave they will sit on my shoulder and peck me in the ear if they’re not getting fed fast enough. It’s really lovely because I can put some food on a customer’s hand and the pigeon will jump across and stay there. It’s something that gets the kids interested and customers engaged.  

There’s a peregrine that hunts near my pitch too – probably hunting my pigeons actually – they’re amazing animals. There’s a lot more wildlife in the city than you realise. I like to sit in Berkeley Square just up from my pitch in the morning before I come to work. It’s really good for my mental health. I’ve got autistic spectrum disorder and a bunch of other stuff. I find sitting with the birds in the park keeps me sane. 

I have been humbled by the generosity of my customers this past year. One of my customers got me [speech recognition software] Dragon. I’ve got dyspraxia – it’s one of my many conditions. When I read, I can do three or four books a day just sat there reading. But when I write or type I get every dyslexic syndrome you’ve ever encountered. I’ve always wanted to write sci-fi. My customer bought me Dragon and then he set up a GoFundMe for me to get a laptop. 

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One of the guys at the Big Issue office had a contact with Neil Gaiman and he retweeted the GoFundMe so now I’ve got a laptop and microphone and Dragon. I’ve ended up using it on forms and all sorts. It’s like an artificial leg for someone with only one leg. 

This year the more time I can spend getting my books down the better. Every day I get back home from my pitch and I’m hammering away on my computer. The Big Issue have told me once I get my manuscripts and synopsis together they will try and help me get it published. 

People are amazing. If you read the news and listen to all the telly and everything, you would think the world is full of scumbags. But in my experience 99% of people would rather give you a hand up than a boot in the face.  

I didn’t quite realise until the lockdowns how much of my mental health support infrastructure was being around the amazing people I sell The Big Issue to. After the last lockdown ended, there’s this customer who I’d seen every week for years. She was this really old lady and every Sunday we’d chat away.

A few months later her daughter came and found me. It was a really bittersweet thing – unbeknown to me she’d been dying of bowel cancer and her daughter was looking through her diary and there were six really miserable days and then one really happy day where she described talking to me.

This repeated over and over. At the back of the diary was an envelope. She knew I’d been saving up for a new Xbox and she left a note saying: “Make sure Jack gets this for his computer”. You think you’re just selling people magazines and you don’t realise how much of an impact you might be having on someone’s life.  

I think one of the greatest strengths of the magazine is that it encourages people into contact who might never normally interact. There are a lot of people with very interesting stories and very interesting brains who don’t quite fit into normal society.

This last 10 years where I’ve been selling the magazine and I’ve been married to Toni is the longest I’ve spent in one place. It’s been the happiest and most settled time in my adult life. I’ve never really lived in the same place longer than about two or three years since I moved out of care when I was 16. The Big Issue is a really big part of how I’m able to maintain that stability. I know some people sell it to get back to a certain point. But, for me, I feel like I’ve found the reef I swim on. 

Words: Liam Geraghty 

Bird & Blend Tea Co., Park Street, Bristol, UK