Allan John Harper, 53, Tesco, Dingwall (Britain’s most northernly vendor)
“Speak to everyone. You don’t know the last time they talked to someone”
I started selling The Big Issue the year it began, 1991. I was living in London then, had been on the streets there since 1988. I was begging and had nowhere to go, but thanks to Mr John Bird, The Big Issue came out and gave me something to focus on, something constructive to do. When we first started selling, it was only 50p, and we were paying lOp for them. I did that for nine years before moving back to Scotland.
Things started going badly wrong for me in 2006 – I had cancer and lost a kidney. After that I started drinking heavily along with taking my medication, just to kill the pain and ended up in rehab. I moved to Inverness and got a job working as a chef, but things weren’t working out and I packed it in. I then started abusing drink again, I was getting through loads of vodka and getting depressed – and I had no focus in life at all. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to get out of the fire’. I turned to The Big Issue again five years ago, and they took me back on. I’ve been doing it ever since – first in Inverness and now in Dingwall, where I’m selling on average 160 issues a week, which I’m told is very high. I’ve been told I’m one of the biggest sellers in the country.
The Big Issue have been a solid force in my life
The Big Issue have been a solid force in my life. When my brother passed away two years ago The Big Issue Foundation gave me financial assistance to fly down to London to bury him because I had no money. I’m so grateful to them for all they’ve done for me. They’ve helped me immensely.
I love selling the magazine, it’s my job. I don’t get benefits, this is my only source of income, and I travel up on the bus here from Inverness every day to do it. I’m always on my pitch. I love it, I’ll moan and groan when it’s snowing but apart from that it’s great.
My customers are amazing, I’m well looked after and I have good banter with them. I feel like a part of the community here. People bring me stuff all the time – recently I was given a bag of clothes – not all of them fitted me, so I took the rest to a charity shop so they could use them. And just today one of my customers has bought me lunch. The staff at Tesco always ask how I’m doing – I get on really well with Steve, the manager, he tells me I’m good with the punters. I want to thank the people of Dingwall for all they’ve done for me.
Celtic FC. I go to quite a lot of games thanks to my customers. I save up my money in a coin bank. My favourite players are Kieran Tierney and Callum McGregor.
My tips for vendors…
Communicate. I speak to everybody who walks past me. You don’t know the last time they talk to someone. That’s the nitty gritty of it. Smile and say hello, and help them if they need it. I gave an old lady a hand with her shopping trolley earlier, and when she came back out she bought a magazine off me.
On my pitch…
Monday to Sunday from 9:30am–3pm
Photo: Karen Thorburn
Tesco, Dingwall, UK