Big Issue vendor Daniel adds poetic voice to national conversation on housing

By Cat Cochrane

Already a local celebrity in Glasgow’s west end, Big Issue vendor Daniel Collins is now showing the city his creative side.

The former chef became a hit across social media and national news last January when he bought one of his regular customers a surprise breakfast to say thank you for their regular conversations.

Marking the 25th anniversary of The Big Issue in October, Daniel was also the focus of a STV feature sharing his story of the magazine’s support in helping get his life back on track during periods of unemployment and homelessness.

Photo: Jassy Earl

Daniel is clearly much in demand and for his latest project, he has been working with Scottish theatre company A Moment’s Peace on their Common Ground project, for which INSP is a media partner.

Alongside three other Glasgow vendors, Daniel collaborated with playwright and theatre maker Lewis Hetherington to produce poetry as part of the nationwide conversation about land and housing in Scotland.

Daniel says that his many hours on buses, as has travelled to and from his pitch on Glasgow’s bustling Byres Road for the past five years, allow him to be inventive. “I am writing things in my head all the time. I love reading and music. I did really well at English at school.”

All four vendors responded to their own experience and perception of housing and homelessness through creative writing. With a natural turn of phrase and sharp Glasgow wit, Daniel penned Past, Present and Future, an expressive poem about community and belonging that covers different stages of his life. Read his full poem below.

To accompany each piece of writing, A Moment’s Peace documentation artist Jassy Earl worked with the Big Issue vendors, alongside Lewis, to create images representing their experiences. The results are compelling. “The idea was that they worked with the photographer and myself to capture the heart of what their poem is about,” Lewis said.

Photo: Jassy Earl

Lewis adds that Daniel’s poem and portrait have become intrinsic to Common Ground and played an important role in the project’s live sharing events which took place across four locations in February.

Also exhibited were creative pieces from primary school children on the island of Mull, older people who’ve experienced homelessness in Aberdeen and young people with learning disabilities in Dundee.

“The events stimulated an informal discussion and even action around land, housing and homelessness,” says Lewis. “It’s an opportunity for people to realise that they have more autonomy than they think.”

With requests from cafes and galleries in Glasgow asking to display Daniel’s poem and portrait in the future, his local reputation doesn’t seem to be taking a dip anytime soon.

Having seen how far his creativity has reached, Daniel has another artistic plan waiting in the wings. Being a massive graphic novel fan, he harbours ambitions to create his own short sketches with characters based on his real life experiences.

“Some of the things I read have quotes from Shakespeare and I wonder if I’d be able to do that,” he admits. “But I dream about it on the bus on the way home. I could start with a series in The Big Issue, that’s an idea… Every week, having my own three-panel sketch.”

Read more about Common Ground here:


Past, Present and Future

By Daniel Collins

The past is…

Silence, as I was always alone.
The smell of damp, as I slept outside and in rundown flats.
It was red due to blood from drug use and grey from the ambiguous nature of days past.
I was a mole, blindly causing destruction.
I was an egg because it’s so versatile and changes.
But now I’m a oak tree, because it’s taken strength to get to this point in my life.
The weather was always sunny as, no matter how bad things have been I’ve always been grateful to be alive and see the sun.

The present is…

The feel of plastic covers I wrap my mags in to keep dry
The sound of people saying ‘no thanks’
The smell of pasta sauce from local Italian
The looks of disdain
The smell of lattes and coffees because folk buy me them and make them for me

The future is…

A functional place of my own to live
A constructive relationship with my son
A job that I enjoy, that’s Monday to Friday