Students at Leeds College of Building are being motivated this new year after spending time alongside a former Big Issue North seller, Alex Old.
Alex was accepted on to a Painting & Decorating course at Leeds College of Building and is now inspiring others to turn their lives around following his own time on the streets.
Several years ago, Alex was begging and struggling with alcohol dependency. Now, thanks to his own perseverance and determination, Alex has transformed his life and is well on his way to becoming a qualified painter and decorator.
Alex said: “Growing up, I couldn’t fit in with anything. I found out I was dyslexic when I was a teenager and, hand-in-hand with that, a big bottle of alcohol came […] And then the death of my grandparents, the split-up of a relationship – it all just came crashing down. […] It all became about alcohol.”
One day, everything changed. Alex said: “I was caught on the streets begging, and I thought, right, this is the moment that I can make a change. I started selling the Big Issue magazine, and then, half past seven every morning – boom! I was out of the house. That helped me to stay sober. The changes I have made have been ground-breaking. I’m feeling so much happier and have so much confidence. Honestly, I’m unrecognisable from a few years ago!”
Alex became a Big Issue North vendor and received support from their Leeds office to help make a positive change to his life. As well as providing day-to-day support, service coordinators meet with each active vendor twice a year to do a more formal review of the help they need.
Alex spent time volunteering at Hollybush, his local conservation centre. Following this, the Big Issue North manager and service coordinators supported Alex to apply to Leeds College of Building and, after assisting him with paperwork and interview revision, Alex was accepted at College.
Anna Manetta-Stark, Fundraising & Communications at Big Issue North, said: “While we’d love to take praise for supporting Alex, he really has taken it upon himself to change his life for the better. He is a determined and driven individual, and we are so unbelievably proud of his progress, supported by the fantastic teaching ethos at Leeds College of Building.”
Martin Parr, Leeds College of Building Painting & Decorating Lecturer, said: “Alex arrived in College to complete a six-week award, progressing to a Level 1 Diploma. With the help of his good friend, Dean (who took him under his wing) and support from College tutors, Alex turned things around. Alex became more focused at College and his decorating skills vastly improved. He was even awarded student of the term. Alex is now halfway through his Level 2 Diploma and is on course to complete. Well done Alex and Dean!”
The flexible nature of selling the magazine meant that Alex was able to attend classes while still having the opportunity to earn a legitimate income in his own time – alongside his trusty canine companion, Muttley! From his vendor work, Alex has even had offers of paid employment from his previous customers.
If you would like to support vendors like Alex to move on in their lives, please consider making a donation: www.justgiving.com/bigissuenorth
For more information about upcoming open days and courses enrolling now at Leeds College of Building, visit: www.lcb.ac.uk