“One of the men sat next to me- he’s got a lot of things going on, sleeping on the streets at the moment. He’s had an amazing day. You could see how relaxed he was, how focussed…”
(Karen, support worker Booth Centre)
Today was our second day into our new project ‘A Book of Ours’, making an illuminated manuscript with people who’ve experienced homelessness.
Not only are we trying to make an artwork, we are also constructing an atmosphere that people can relax in and learn to trust. It’s impossible to let your imagination play if you don’t feel safe, or sense you’re unwelcome, or being judged. People living on the streets or in hostels often tell us that a quiet space that’s safe is a rare luxury amongst the mayhem, violence, stress. One of the pleasures of this session was to see people dancing away in their imaginations, in the company of others.
The morning session was boisterous and loud, an energy blast. We invited people to make short poetic pieces about their red letter days. Days when time went fast, or slow. G wrote a typical day in a prison cell, the sounds, smells, the boredom and fear. R described the loss of a relative, a long, slow, sad day. C wrote about the amazement of seeing an eclipse, as a child (a little excerpt from that is the title of this blog). Someone else described urinating in the church font, as revenge against a bullying priest. For someone else again, today was his red letter day, his first day in the Booth Centre, a day full of relief but also trepidation. These descriptions were boiled down to a few words and will be written into the calendar framework that we are devising for the first section of this ambitious book.
The theme is time and how we value certain moments of it. Or don’t value them. Here’s a Brilliant Job day, in precisely 12 words: “Started work, didn’t realise my day was over til someone told me.” Rachel
Alongside the writing, pages of sumptuous lettering were appearing as the makers became immersed in their work. Suddenly, the paper was transformed into colour and glorious flowing lines. When we came back after lunch we were surprised and delighted to find that many of the morning group had returned. People had got a good meal inside themselves and this helped fuel them into the afternoon. Here’s our support worker Karen again:
“Can be a full stomach makes the difference. People having lunch and coming back up to do more — doing full day…I spoke to a few people while they were in the workshop. All seemed to really, thoroughly enjoy it. The fact people came back from lunch, after working all morning is unusual, important. It’s a nice space to build up rapport. People get to know parts of themselves and share in a way that they wouldn’t necessarily share downstairs.”
One of our guides on this project is the poet William Blake, his extraordinary visions were recorded in poems and artwork. His kindred spirit in our group is Lawrence whose wondrous outpouring of word/image brings delight to us all, despite his occasional grumpiness. Once again Laurence took flight — up into the colour and light — and others followed him in a swirl of colour and poetry and (always) humour.
As we came to the end, the group gently broke apart, saying their goodbyes, shaking hands, grinning shyly at each other. Then went downstairs and back into it all. We’ll leave the final word to Karen:
“It can get manic in the Booth and I came upstairs into this session and immediately felt the vibe. It was just so settled. People getting into it. And me? — I absolutely loved it.”
This new arthur+martha project is the construction of an illuminated manuscript at the Booth Centre and other support centres for people with experience of homelessness. It will gather together significant events, dates, people, celebrations and memorials — all in one book, giving a wide cross-section of hugely individual lives. Our hope is that by doing this we reassert the identity and the individuality of people who are sometimes dismissed as “homeless” when they are so much more. Supported by HLF.