A MAN, who spent more than 30 years living on Britain's streets, is celebrating after his suggestion to create a stone replica of a Big Issue North vendor on York Minster, was completed.

As part of an ongoing £11m scheme to restore some of its exterior stone work, a grotesque of a Big Issue North vendor was added to the cathedral, 70ft high.

Last summer, 62-year-old Norbert Lawrie, who sells issues of Big Issue North outside York Railway Station, suggested the Minster incorporate a Big Issue vendor into its stonework.

The idea had been sparked when the vendor struck conversation with York Minster stonemason, David Willett, while he was selling copies of the homeless magazine.

Until recently, Mr Lawrie, had been homeless for the last three decades following what he described had been a "relationship breakdown".

The Northern Echo:

Norbert Lawrie, who spent much of his time on the streets

In 2016 he moved to York City Centre to continue selling editions of the magazine, he said: "I’ve sold street papers all over the country.

"I did feel sometimes that I should just get my sleeping bag and go back out. You have to deal with all this bureaucracy, like getting bills and rent sorted out. You feel like you’re being dragged back into the system."

But Mr Lawrie said his suggestion came after being told the Minster was on the hunt for new ideas to replace ageing and unrepairable grotesques.

Stonemason, Mr Willet, who said the vendor's suggestion immediately "resonated" with him, said: "The amount of people there are on the street, and the way people were just ignoring them – it’s against human rights, let alone human decency that this is happening – to have something up here that acknowledges the hard work that vendors do in the north of England is incredible.

“It should be seen as a tribute not just to one particular vendor, but to all the people involved in this social enterprise that exists to try and help homeless people earn an income and start the recovery from homelessness."

The Northern Echo:

York Minster which features dozens of grotesques made from stone

Part of the £11m investment, there are usually 14 stonemasons including four apprentices, carving stone into impressive grotesques.

Mr Willett said: “If we have information about what was there originally, we try and copy it.

"But if there’s no information on it, we have a bit more of a free rein.

"The proportions are the same as the one it is replacing, but the rest is up to us.”

Mr Willet said the Big Issue Vendor grotesque was loosely based on the former character that was there.

Speaking after its completion, he said: “In some ways, it’s just a job. It’s nice to see the back of something that you have been sat next to staring at for ten or twelve weeks. You just want it out of your life for a while.

"And then you go back and look at it and think, I did enjoy doing that, and it’s nice to see it up there, pointing it out to the grandkids.”

Mr Lawrie added that it was the "icing on the cake" for a life spent campaigning for the homeless.

He said: "This is the end of the journey for me.

"It’s the place I have been looking for all my life, and to have something up on the Minster, where around the corner I slept in a shop doorway is amazing.”