She left home to live outdoors in Bridge Street, but now Peterborough’s most eccentric rough sleeper says she is off on her travels and will be glad to leave us behind.
Valerie Collins has spent 11 months sleeping in the small sheltered entrance to the closed down Pizza Roma restaurant.
A familiar sight on one of the city’s busiest shopping streets, Valerie has even created a border of potted plants in her doorway home.
The mother of two has spent months living out of bins, but claims to be planning to fly out to Portugal in the next few days before heading to Texas in America.
With her sleeping bag, pot plants and pram all squeezed into her small living space, Valerie’s “home” is a striking part of Peterborough’s city centre. But in a few days’ time Valerie says it will be gone as she makes her way to Portugal, leaving behind a house in Ramsey.
Although questions on what she will be doing in Portugal, and how she can afford the trip, are politely rebuffed, Valerie explained her motive to live in Bridge Street was “just to observe life, what people are doing, how they act and what makes them tick.”
Valerie, who grew up near Worcester, says she has two daughters and two grandchildren. “I told them I was off camping. Mum does what she wants to do,” she said.
Her decision to come to Bridge Street was because “people have gotten worse,” and she wanted to observe them in their daily life.
She reflects that the day-time shoppers treat Bridge Street “like they did Queensgate - a fashion parade. They all pose. I call them the pretenders.” She has encountered a few “nutty ones in the evening,” and claims to have observed animals who are more pleasant.
Valerie, who did not want to disclose her age, said she has not been lonely or cold.
Formerly a shorthand typist, she said she had previously lived out of bins for eight months, adding: “I can live like a king or queen from those bins. People waste clothes and shoes - that’s a prime example of how England fails.”
The council, she says, have given her a “silent understanding” that she can stay. But, she says, she will be glad to leave Peterborough behind.
“I won’t miss it, it’s not a place I like to be,” she said.
Asked finally if she is happy, Valerie replied: “I will be when I’ve left here, looking after the humans who need it.”
A council spokeswoman said Valerie had refused offers of support. She added: “If she chooses to sleep rough there is very little we can do to prevent this. We have no record of any complaints being made about her and as far as we are aware she does not beg or cause anti-social behaviour. Therefore she is not breaking any laws.”
Valerie is not the most famous Peterborough rough sleeper though. That honour belongs to Nobby the tramp who spent 10 years living in a bus shelter in Oundle Road, Orton Longueville.