Ben was lean-faced, young and kindly – and he walked like the clappers, despite his habitual roll-ups. So we brisked down through the Northern Quarter and to the main bustle, where we met P our first vendor. He gave us a warm hello and chatted for 10 minutes about the site, the people who pass him and about his own past. Little fragments of a hard history: ‘That barbed wire reminds me of prison.’ Because the vendors work when at their pitches, we could only take a little of his time and intermittent attention.
Other stops led to other conversations, outside the big landmark stores and edifices in town. Vendors wear a dayglo bib while they’re selling, so that they stand out for the outreach workers to see – the bibs double as a traffic safety extra. (R wryly observed of this badging: ‘All the women, everyone’s after people wearing a Big Issue bib cos we’ve got a lot of prospects. I’m personally overwhelmed with offers.’)
The idea of the outreach is to make sure people are alright, working – and eluding the ever-present ghost ‘trouble’ however it next materialises. The pressures of the life are huge, often coming from deep-set behaviours and peer pressure. Breaking out of this mould can be a long and terrifying job. ‘I’ve been homeless two year no ID no benefit so I was stuck in a circle couldn’t get anywhere to live cos everyone wanted ID and wanted to know you was on benefits. Plus I was a bad smackhead. This time last year - my head did go Fred West quite a bit - but I couldn’t even tell people I was a heroin addict cos I was embarrassed.’
Our idea was simply to ask people about their day - the best part of it – and for them to document the moment of our conversation by taking a quick photograph. I jotted down the words, Lois gave people whatever help they needed as they took the pictures.
‘I have good moments. Someone brought me a ham salad sarnie today. Or they all bring me a cuppa in the middle of winter and you end up with nine cups. I never refuse it. When they do little things like that that’s a nice touch.’
For more images from a map of you, please visit our portfolio site. http://www.flickr.com