John Williams, Co-op, Killay, Swansea

When he's not creating art, John likes nothing more than to spend his time fussing all the local dogs on his pitch

Support John

50% of net proceeds from your purchase of a gift subscription will go direct to John

Any dog that stops near me gets a fuss. It’s a guarantee. Even if their owners have a different route in mind, dogs will steer themselves over to my pitch. I enjoy meeting the customers, too, of course. I’ve been on my pitch for a few years now, and you see kids grow up, mums having babies and coming to see me. It’s a family atmosphere. My customers are good as gold. 

One customer had a new puppy, and I was the first person they brought it to. Sometimes I’ll look after a dog while people go shopping. I’ll have little ones, big ones. They all get their fuss. 

One customer said, “I tried to go a different way, I wasn’t allowed. My dog was pulling me, I didn’t have a choice. As soon as I hit Killay, there’s one way I’m going to go.” She’ll just let him off the lead now and he’ll come straight to me. It’s a good relationship up there. 

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

I used to sell down in Weston-super-Mare. I moved down there to recover from alcoholism, and got talking to a Big Issue vendor who pointed me towards the magazine. I was looking to make some money and keep occupied. 

I’ve been clean 18 and a half years, and moved back to Swansea, my home town, just before the pandemic. I’d become homeless at short notice, with just a suitcase.  

As soon as I got back to Swansea, I phoned up The Big Issue, the Cardiff office, and told them what happened. Within a day of being in contact with them, I was back selling in Swansea. 

The Big Issue was really helpful during Covid, when I couldn’t get on my pitch and sell the mag. I’m on benefits, but they were kind enough to give me extra money. I couldn’t fault it. 

They’ve helped me out with a laptop. My old one was getting so slow, so I got in touch with The Big Issue and they sorted me a refurbished laptop – it’s great for talking to my girlfriend, checking the news, and looking at the weather so I know what to wear when I’m out selling. 

When my mum died a couple of years ago it was a really stressful time. I didn’t know where to start, so I got in contact with my outreach worker at The Big Issue. He helped me out, he did it all online for me. It took all the hassle, the worry – at the time my anxiety was hitting the roof, my blood pressure was hitting the roof – it took a lot of stress out of it. 

I was nervous coming back to the pitch, not knowing how busy it was going to be. Things have been quiet recently, even though it’s a local pitch. There’s still people around but you get your good days and bad days. Luckily I’ve got a card reader. That’s helped – in this day and age people don’t carry cash as much.  

Drawing is my passion – pencils, pastels, felt tips, collages. I’m not one of the best at it, but it keeps me occupied. 

Swansea’s got a fantastic market. I’ll go three times a week, and depending on what money I’ve got I’ll pick up some fresh veg, maybe some fish, and some Welsh cakes.  

When you’re young you think you know it all. But I’d tell my younger self to listen to his elders. They’ve been there and done it, and done what you’re doing. Had their card stamped. Listen because they know the pitfalls. I wish I’d listened to my dad a lot more. 

With the cost of living, I would be struggling without the income from the magazine. It’s The Big Issue that keeps me going. Without that, I don’t know. 

Interview: Greg Barradale