Will Herbert, Budgens, Islington, London

Will is happy to have found a home in Newington Green – now he just needs someone to share it with!

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I don’t know what is going on at the moment – I don’t know if a lot of my customers are on holiday – but it’s very quiet on the street. Since the heatwave in July it’s been almost as quiet as it was under lockdown when no one could come out. 

I’ve been outside Budgens for about 10 years now and I’ve made this place famous. I feel like a little bit of a local landmark. I’ve actually been selling the magazine since The Big Issue started. Back then I was homeless, on the drugs and everything. Now I’ve cleaned up my act, thanks to The Big Issue. Thanks to them giving me the chance to sell papers it’s a different ball game now.

We used to float around different pitches rather than being in the same place and we’re dealing with cards now instead of cash. You can’t beat the ol’ cash if you ask me, but I do use a card reader now so don’t be shy! I have the reader on my chest so customers can tap on there and I tell them: “It’s close to my heart when you push that.” I’ve got a one-bed flat now too at Newington Green and it’s nice. But I’m single and I could do with a bit of love in my life! 

I’ve been clean off the drugs for around 10 years now. I’ve not touched a thing and I feel so proud of myself saying that. To get to where I am, I’m glad I had The Big Issue with me, selling them papers, keeping away from everyone, doing the right things. I’ll give a lot of credit to the Issue for that, it helped me manage my money.

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I’m starting to get in touch with my family again. My cousin Florabell came in from the Caribbean, she’s in London now. She’s the only bit of family I know from overseas. She phoned me up and asked me how I was and she’s been very nice to me. My family over here don’t really want to know me because when I was on drink and drugs I was tough on them. Nothing’s changed for them in their heads although I’ve changed. 

I’ve been to loads of different places with The Big Issue. I go to Chelsea Flower Show every year when they can book me in. I used to go to Glastonbury too. I think the last time I went was in 2017 and I was with a vendor from Cardiff and another from Scotland, and we all got on selling papers. It was a nice little turnout. But it’s more regular at the flower show, I meet loads of celebrities and I get photos with them and put them in a scrapbook. I remember Piers Morgan’s one of them – he gave me an old five-pound note when the new ones were coming out. You remember those little things. I saw him the next year and he gave me another fiver. 

I’m 62 now and I’ve got a lot of health problems. I had bowel cancer in 2017 and I did all the chemotherapy, and now I’ve got problems. As you’re older, they don’t get any better. I still sell the mags every day depending how my body feels, and it’s thanks to my customers that they liven me up a bit. They bring joy into my life. I’d like to keep selling for as long as I can. I enjoy it. If I could do anything else I’m not sure what I’d do, maybe open a shop.

I hope everyone is coping well with the money situation. No one’s got any money and I’m finding it very hard, but I’ve just got to try and keep on. I hope my customers keep on smiling and I’ll smile back.

Interview: Liam Geraghty

Budgens, Upper Street, London, UK