News

“He was a part of the community”

Tributes are paid to Islington Big Issue vendor Neculai Popa who died last month

Neculai Popa, a popular and dedicated vendor who sold The Big Issue outside Sainsbury’s in Islington died on 5 December. He was 33 years old.

“He had an amazing heart,” says Amparo Escobedo who got to know Neculai after buying the magazine from him. “We became friends. We started calling each other Bro and Sis – a way to tell him he wasn’t alone.”

Amparo explains that in June, after a few weeks of being missing from his pitch, Neculai returned to his post outside Sainsbury’s.

“He showed up again outside the supermarket but very skinny,” Amparo recalls. “He told me he was in hospital with several health issues.

“Next time he didn’t show up for a few days, I went to check at the hospital and there he was. That was when we became friends. After a few days visiting, I discovered a wonderful person who had been struggling for years, trying to find his way out of the street but to make things even harder, with very weak health at that moment.”

Neculai became homeless four years ago after the breakdown of a relationship and losing his job. Previously he had worked at Camden Market. Living on the streets led to serious health problems, and he was hospitalised several times over the last six months. He sold The Big Issue in Islington to pay for hostel accommodation, and Amparo decided to set up a Crowdfunding page to make sure he had shelter over winter.

“The Crowdfunding idea came along as the winter was round the corner,” she says. “It was really important for him not to beg for money and that people saw him working, selling The Big Issue. He didn’t like to ask for help.”

The Crowdfunding page had raised over £1000 to help Neculai before he passed away on 5 December.

Amparo posted a sign outside Sainsbury’s where he sold The Big Issue to inform customers of what had happened. “People loved him,” Amparo says. “When he was in the hospital peopled visited him, called him, texted him. People knew him for years and loved him, he was part of the community.

“I have had so many emails from people saying how much they will miss him.”

Here are some of the messages sent by Neculai’s customers and friends:

“I used to live next door to where he would sell The Big Issue and spoke to him every day that he was there. He was a truly great person, with a heart of gold, and I can’t tell you how sad I am to learn of his passing. When I moved house last year, he was the only person who helped me move. A true gentleman.”
JH

“I was very sad to hear of Nick’s death. I helped him a bit and saw him the day before he died – he was a very courageous and tenacious man.”
JW

“I’m so sorry to hear that Neculai Popa has passed away. He will be missed by so many people.”
SA

“I’m gutted and have lost him and shed a few tears as with many of my colleagues who knew him.”
JN

“I have just seen the notice outside Sainsbury’s I am totally saddened as are many locals, he was a lovely man with a big heart I will miss our conversations.”
SJ

“We knew him from chats with him outside Sainsbury’s – we as a family feel very sad as we had invited him to spend Christmas with us.”
SM

A memorial service is planned for the community to remember Nec at 12pm on Saturday January 20 at St Mary’s Church Gardens, Upper Street, London N1 2TX

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
FOSO is the new FOMO: Why are we so afraid to switch off and be out of office?
Work

FOSO is the new FOMO: Why are we so afraid to switch off and be out of office?

Almost no recorded cases of disability benefit fraud despite DWP crackdown: 'PIP fraud is a non-issue'
dwp pip/ disabled person
Disability benefits

Almost no recorded cases of disability benefit fraud despite DWP crackdown: 'PIP fraud is a non-issue'

Deaf man awarded £50,000 after 'oppressive' and 'discriminatory' treatment by DWP
dwp jobcentre
Department for Work and Pensions

Deaf man awarded £50,000 after 'oppressive' and 'discriminatory' treatment by DWP

Green transition: Help retrain gas workers or risk 'cliff edge' job losses, government warned
Green transition

Green transition: Help retrain gas workers or risk 'cliff edge' job losses, government warned

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know