Our vendors: Norbert (Big Issue North, York, UK)

Interview by Christian Lisseman, Big Issue North

Where do you sell the magazine?

I sell the magazine on Goodramgate and outside York train station. I have had a few issues with beggars near my usual pitch on Goodramgate and so, rather than get into an argument, I walk away so that there is a clear line between us [magazine vendors] and begging. People selling the magazine are working – simple as that. But if someone is begging near your pitch, you seem to get associated with it. The pitch outside the train station is new and it can be difficult because everybody is in a hurry. But hopefully I can get it established and then, when someone else comes along, they can take it on.

You’re an avid campaigner on homeless issues, aren’t you?

Yes. I run the Homeless Britain Facebook page. It’s very popular. We have about 14,000 followers. It’s like editing, really. Social media is very powerful. And now we have a major political party that is pushing the agenda on homelessness. Jeremy Corbyn has made it absolutely clear that Labour will do something about it. Once they are elected, we will be on their backs to do something about homelessness in places like Manchester, where there is a real crisis. Homelessness is worse now than when Big Issue North first started back in 1992. It’s absolutely marvellous what machines you can buy these days. You can get a Google box and you can ask it what the weather is in any part of the world and it will talk back to you. So how come we can do all that and yet we’ve still got people sleeping on the street – as they were at the turn of the last century? Come on! What’s going on here, people? Let’s wake up and do something.

Big Issue North vendor Norbert (Photo by Christian Lisseman)

How long have you been in York?

I came here about two and a half years ago. I’ve sold street papers all over the country. I sold in Covent Garden before Bob got his cat. But this is it now. My last pitch will be here. We have a good thing going in York. All the vendors work together and the place where you come and buy the magazine is great because you can have a cup of tea and a rest and talk to the people here.

How do you feel about Big Issue North magazine?

It’s a regional homeless magazine that matters. And it’s not just a magazine – it’s bigger than that, and much more. All The Big Issues used to be different. There was a Wales one and a South West one and a Scottish one, but now they are all part of Big Issue national, except for Big Issue North, which stands out on its own. People value it because it’s regional, like Yorkshire puddings. Big Issue North is part of a tradition.

Tell us about the hat.

The hat is only about a year and half old. Someone gave me some badges in a tin and I put them on this hat, which I bought for 50p. Then people started giving me more badges. Some of the of them are worth some money; others have a connection for me. I have a prefect badge. I found it and I thought: “Right, I never got to be a prefect, so I’m a bloody prefect now!”

Do you have a message for your customers?

I’d like to thank everybody who buys the magazine every week. I want people to know that they don’t have to buy it. I don’t want people to feel guilty about not buying it. I want people to buy it because they know that from the £2.50 they pay, we make a living. If people appreciate that, that’s good enough for me.