We tell it with a big heart

A Book of Ours

A BOOK OF OURS illuminated manuscript, made by people who’ve experienced homelessness and other vulnerable people in Manchester, is currently being exhibited at Bury Art Museum. On 9 July a group of the makers (and others) from the Booth Centre and Back on Track came to see the exhibition. A selection of 20 pages is on the walls and in cabinets — only a fraction of the whole number of pages which will be bound into the book. Here below are photos from the day, plus some of the group’s comments:

“When you look at this work, you don’t see the circumstances of the people. You don’t see how they were living or how they was suffering when they made these pages. You’ve got to look deep inside these pictures and these words. Then you get the true story of what is being told here, it is told as it is, it is the truth. I have witnessed it. There is a fearful judgement put on people when they live homeless. But these pages don’t say it’s good or say it’s bad, they just say it exists. They are stories deserving the telling.”

Above: Roy, Kayleigh and (in bottom right photo) Shannah, Bury Art Museum July 2020

“I don’t read so well, it takes me a while. It’s brilliant to have the pictures as well as the words, then I can guess bits of what’s going on. The colours dance for me. Now I did get that poem about Dolly Parton, I love her songs, she comes on like a joke but she sings the saddest songs. I’m looking at this one here and I can read all these words myself. They speak to me about suicide. This is how it is when there is no road left to go. Looking at that page made me feel something, to be honest it made me feel terrible. But then two pages along down is this one about hope. The one about the Satellites coming. I like hope coming in at the end. It’s part one and part two of a story. That’s how it seems to me.” Anonymous

From Office of the Dead, A BOOK OF OURS
From The Joys, A BOOK OF OURS

“Phil, it looks great. You know that and I know that and now everyone else can see it. I’ve come a long way to see our story on the wall. All the gang here, we look like bankrobbers with our masks on. Makes me smile, we look so dodgy. And the gang has done great, every single one of us. We made it together, the Collective. Here we are together again, I’d like to have a picture but they’d probably arrest me. Wouldn’t be the first time.” Chris

“It makes you feel good at the time when you’re doing the art, you get lost in it. And then when you see it again, like this. I don’t have the words. And other people’s work too, all those people from the day centres. It can be a lonely world out there — when you’re really out in it, when you live outside. Sometimes, times like this, you’re not so alone.” Anonymous

From The Joys, A BOOK OF OURS

“People never knew about us. Never knew it was there did they, this story of ours? It was written by a bunch of down and out pissheads, as people call us. Bums, to put it mildly. But I been round this gallery today and we’re in there too now — and we are just as good. With the top artists and sculptors. We tell it with a big heart. A bunch of down and outs is what you get called. The harsh judgements. And sometimes we judge ourselves even harder. When you’ve lived this life, you don’t feel always good about yourself. Know what I’m saying? But here — you do feel good. When you ask me is telling this story worthwhile, I don’t even hesitate. Of course it is, of course it is!” Roy

A BOOK OF OURS, Bury Art Museum

Gallery photography by Julia Grime. Page close-ups, Lois Blackburn.

People who have experienced homelessness, and other vulnerable people, have made a medieval-style illuminated manuscript A BOOK OF OURS describing their lives, hopes and dreams in a 2-year project in Manchester, which had its public debut at Bury Art Museum in May and runs until July 2021.

This arthur+martha project took place at the Booth Centre, Back on Track and other support centres in Manchester, along with virtual workshops with (Invisible) Manchester and Inspiring Change Manchester. Much of this work has been inscribed into the illuminated manuscript, and many extra pieces are to be found here on our blog and as songs in a forthcoming CD. The book pages and songs were made collaboratively by people with lived experience of homelessness and other vulnerable people 2019-21.

Supported by Heritage Lottery Fund

Jakir and Phil, pondering

The Umpire of Heaven

A Book of Ours, poetry

Richard writes about a day in heaven, for our project A BOOK OF OURS. His heaven is simply a day spent with his father, watching cricket on the TV – and yet the affection with which he describes this day makes it so much more than “ordinary”…

Umpire

Sat there, my dad watching telly
His favourite commentator
Reporting the cricket. And dad
Big smirk on his face
Engrossed in the match
But he wasn’t the only one —

We were all there
And England was back in the game.
One of the boys hit it for 6
You can tell by the sound of the 
Ball on the bat
It was going for 6
A perfect moment. Heaven.

My dad doing the hand-signals
Signal for 6, signal for 4
Signals for “Out”, for “Wide”
In cricket, he knows it all.
And he’s got a sense of humour
Takes the mickey out of me, I tell him:
“One day you’ll talk sense.”

Football I’ve studied 20 years.
Learned — big teams are always beatable
If you play like a team without fear.
Get knocked down, make your comeback
Everyone’s got to struggle. Me, I’ve
Had my dips and in the biggest 
I lost everything. It caused me to rediscover 
Myself. My progress now is more and more —

And my dad is having a cuppa, eating sandwiches 
Sat there talking cricket, he’s got me intrigued.
Biggest smile on my face —
A family outing round the telly.

Richard

People who have experienced homelessness, and other vulnerable people, have made a medieval-style illuminated manuscript A BOOK OF OURS describing their lives, hopes and dreams in a 2-year project in Manchester, which had its public debut at Bury Art Museum in May and runs until July 2021.

This arthur+martha project took place at the Booth Centre, Back on Track and other support centres in Manchester, along with virtual workshops with (Invisible) Manchester and Inspiring Change Manchester. Much of this work has been inscribed into the illuminated manuscript, and many extra pieces are to be found here on our blog. The book pages and songs were made collaboratively by people with lived experience of homelessness and other vulnerable people 2019-21.

Supported by Heritage Lottery Fund

Visions of angels

A Book of Ours, poetry

A BOOK OF OURS is an illuminated manuscript which gathers 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.

Phil writes:

A BOOK OF OURS is in its final stages and we’ve been gathering a flurry of work to add to the project. Most recently, angels have arrived — these ones via their earthly emissaries the Inspiring Change Manchester art group, who have also made work for Whisper To Me Alone. As ever, the ICM afternoon was a delight, full of companionship and bustle and jokiness. Dylan Gwilym, who runs the group, creates an atmosphere of playful kindness for people to experiment safely within. Several people in the group have some experience of homelessness and this was discussed as we spent time together; included in this blog is a group poem constructed by me out of the conversation that day…

Angel artworks by the ICM art group. Top and bottom images by Becky Boo. Artworks in first panel (from top left to bottom right) by TN, Anonymous, Dee, GL and JP. Artworks paired in second panel by Dylan Gwilym and Lily Ozane.

Just like heaven

I’m good
At least I think I am. 
Thinking of angels 
Halos, I think of and
Doughnuts and rubber rings 

Think of people who’ve passed 
People passing you when you’re homeless 
Without giving
The time of day.

Seen a spirit
When I was a kid
When the window was open
A priest with no head
No one believed me
When I was out on the streets
People went past me, unseen 
Like you’re invisible.

Never seen
Spirits after that
But I feel them all the time

Me...I live in a theme park just like heaven, an angel
Tall and regal looking down.
It’s good to share trouble not hold it:
Swift-flying angel
Just let your imagination... go

Group poem ICM Art Group March 2021

Several organisations work together to support the art group:

Inspiring Change Manchester is a Lottery Funded Learning Programme. We work with people experiencing Multiple Disadvantages, who face barriers to accessing support and may be isolated within society. We follow a No Wrong Door approach, supporting people through a Multi-Agency Partnership that strives to be Asset Focused, Psychologically Informed and Person Centred. We are working to create System Change to tackle inequalities and improve people’s experiences in accessing the support they need.

Dylan Gwylim represented Self Help Services who are the partner providing the mental health element of the ICM project https://www.selfhelpservices.org.uk/

The group meets at Back on Track www.backontrackmanchester.org.uk Several Back on Track learners have been involved with various stages of A BOOK OF OURS.

Angel artwork by Becky Boo

The making of a page

A Book of Ours, Projects

Artist Lois Blackburn describes some of the processes in the creation of a page of A Book of Ours.

Creating the artwork for the Book of Ours has been a true collaborative process. Occasional pages have been made by one person, but most have the hands of 2 or 3, some pages have multiple artists and writers. This is a fitting tribute to the Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts that inspire our book. Each element was created by a different person (in the Western tradition usually monks) the parchment, the scribe, the illuminator, the book binder… For us, it means we can offer many ways for people to shine, be it writing, drawing, calligraphy, painting…

The illustration in the medieval manuscript was functional as well as decorative, marking the beginnings of important texts, and helping the reader to find their way around the book. The illustrations worked together to inform the reader, to tell the story. The Book of Ours, borrows from all these traditions, with artworks inspired by the poetry, or by themes and images directly from the medieval manuscripts.

During the last year, under lock downs and Covid restrictions, we have had to adapt our workshops, with smaller groups when we were lucky enough to meet at The Booth Centre and Back on Track, and remote ways of working, using on-line resources and the post. I contribute with themes, inspiration, resources, examples, creating a page template with space for illustrations and text. Sometimes I have much more input into the book pages. For instance one of the last pages in the book ‘The prospect of a bath’.

My first step was to block out the page, with space for the illustration, and space for Andrew’s beautiful poem, ‘The prospect of a bath’. Using transfer paper, I copied Andrew’s hand written poem onto the manuscript page. This in turn was written over with calligraphy pen and ink. I will always use people’s own handwriting where I can, and keep spelling and layout as unedited as possible.

I had been sent in the post a tender angel drawing, from C Blackwood, which I copied onto the page, creating the image in inks rather than felt pen, but keeping it as true to the original as I could.

Looking at medieval manuscripts for further inspiration, I found an image (see below on the left) that irresistibly fitted the theme, and one that could showcase C. Blackwood’s angel. The resulting page has perhaps more of ‘me’ in than I would like- normally a page like this would go backwards and forwards to various makers more often. However it does showcase the Andrew’s poem, and C.Blackwood’s angel, so I hope they will be pleased.

arthur+martha work with homeless and vulnerable people to participate in making the illuminated manuscript BOOK OF OURS. This project is partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track and supported by the Heritage Lottery.

Closing the Covid chapter

A Book of Ours

In September 2020 The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded arthur+martha emergency funding for running socially-distanced workshops, phone calls and online activities working with people who’ve experienced homelessness and vulnerable people in Manchester. This funding was for our project Quilt of Leaves, making the illuminated manuscript A BOOK OF OURS. The workshops took place throughout autumn-winter 2020, developing pages, poems and songs for a Covid Chapter in the illuminated manuscript.

A paper Covid virus finds its way into the illuminated manuscript

Alongside work on the manuscript, we developed poems/lyrics and a song sequence, describing participants’ experiences during the pandemic. Songwriter Matt Hill and Calligrapher Stephen Raw were a vital part of the team during this time, as was our volunteer Christine Johnson and the Booth Centre volunteer Sue Dean, both of whom contributed hugely.

Here is Christine, writing for our project diary to describe the tone of one of the last sessions, along with workshop photos by Sue. The theme of the session was ‘Heaven’ — whatever that might mean for each individual in the room. Christine’s description of a conversation in one of the workshops give a sense of the uncertainty and yet the power of many creative encounters at the Booth Centre:

“I asked him what was heaven to him, what did it mean to him. He said it didn’t mean anything to him, so I asked what made him feel good, or peaceful, or safe. He said Truth, so I encouraged him to write truth down. Why does truth make you feel good? Because it is/or I feel powerful. He wrote that down. It appeared that he felt more connected with the question now and seemed to enjoy this. He was however distracted by his phone in the midst of it, and did get up from his seat shortly after.

“I wondered whether this was simply the case or did I crowd his space a bit? I think though, that there was a bit more connection between us than earlier at the break when I asked him how was he finding the session? “Good”. End of conversation!

“For me, these sessions are about finding the feeling, which is the heart of connection. Beyond the mind, beyond words, excavating through the superficial layers, as far as someone is willing to go. And the sensitivity and respect to ask open questions, not pushing or controlling according to one’s own opinions or agenda. Letting go of a desired outcome and accepting and enjoying the unique results.

“What makes a person feel connected, and to what – to ourself? To ‘God’?, to another human being, to life, to our own experience of life? Each question invites you deeper.

“On the way home on the tram I was thinking about truth, or Truth with a capital T. What is Truth? Is it subjective or is there a single truth? What are other people’s relationship with the word truth? Political truth, personal truth. Over the years our life experiences, thoughts, opinions, beliefs and the peers we associate with, change. What was once true may no longer be true for us. Our educational, religious and political institutions shape us, condition us. So, what is Truth? Is it fluid, and if so, then is that really truth?

“Is there an ultimate truth? An unchanging truth ? If there is, what is that for you…?”

The BOOK OF CHANGES project is funded by the Heritage Lottery’s Emergency Fund, supporting homeless and vulnerable people to participate in making the arthur+martha illuminated manuscript BOOK OF OURS. This project is partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

A tent decorated with the sun

A Book of Ours

We would like to wish all and everyone we’ve met and worked with a happy winterfest and an even happier new year.

It’s been a strange and sometimes fearful year, but it’s also been full of the hope that comes with making art and writing poetry. Here are some images from our last workshop of the year, at The Booth Centre where the BOOK OF OURS illuminated manuscript is being made. These pages have been made by over 100 people with experience of homelessness.

Despite the difficult circumstances that many of the makers live in, their pages shimmer with colour and passion. The photos from the day, were taken mostly by volunteer Sue Dean. Among the original poems and songs, is a quote from a medieval nun called Hildegard, being carefully scribed by Roy one of our regular group members: “I will have a tent… decorated with the Sun and bright stars. Angelic glory will be in it… I will be a companion of the angels…” It’s a mysterious quote, but it sticks in the mind. A tent decorated with the sun. Perhaps it is about seeing the deeper value of people — whatever their place in society, or the world — and also finding the the treasure of our true selves.

Or to put it another way – wherever you are, may sunshine find you.

arthur+martha

The BOOK OF CHANGES project is funded by the Heritage Emergency Fund, supporting homeless and vulnerable people to participate in making the arthur+martha illuminated manuscript BOOK OF OURS. This project is partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

Hi all, hope you’re doing well.

A Book of Ours, Projects

Today blog for our project BOOK OF OURS, the medieval-style manuscript book, is written and illustrated with photos by the Booth Centre volunteer Sue Dean. She writes from the perspective of both a volunteer and participant.

Mondays with the arthur+martha group returned this week to the designs around the edging of the book, and to teach those who wanted to try Calligraphy. Several people wanted to continue with their partial complete designs around the edges for the book. Some expressed an interest in the beautiful designer writings of Calligraphy, while those who chose to continue their book designs were fairly quiet in concentration, asking few questions and mostly carefully bringing their imagined design to life.

We had pictures of insects, bugs and beautiful winged creatures to base our ideas on. The almost silent deep concentration was palpable. Meanwhile for those who chose the Calligraphy soon found this was much harder to master than imagined from the swooshing ease of pen strokes by the actual Calligrapher Stephen Raws. One or two mastered the basic idea and produced some excellent first attempts. For others it was much more difficult and not as expected from watching the Calligrapher write initially. Overall a quiet calm class with many happy faces at the work completed. 

The BOOK OF CHANGES project is funded by the Heritage Emergency Fund, supporting homeless and vulnerable people to participate in making the arthur+martha illuminated manuscript BOOK OF OURS. This project is partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

From our own correspondent

A Book of Ours

The workshops for BOOK OF OURS, a medieval-style manuscript book, have restarted at The Booth Centre and Back on Track, with Booth Centre volunteer Sue Dean as a roving reporter taking photos of the work and writing about the flavour of the sessions. Two of Sue’s reports, below, describe the bringing together of words, music and imagery in BOOK OF OURS.

2 November: we turn to creative drawing for the huge monastic-style decorated book, THE BOOK OF OURS. There was autumnal greenery and multicoloured leaves on each table, and inspirational prints in the style of the beautifully illustrated and uncommon books from aeons ago. There was much chatter and delight in trying something new: which initially designed in pencil meant mistakes could easily be erased. Each page had an already-completed design to work with. Some took the Autum foliage as as base for their design, others the prints dotted around the room. With soft music playing and the smell of Autum pervading the room, a gentle concentration settled as each started work on their design. Ink in various colours was offered once the designs were underway. This brought a slower steady pace as some went over the initial pencil designs with colours, and some who were designing their own piece used the inks direct It was a wonderful session with one or two lingering to complete a precise small piece before break and again before dinner… 

9 November: back to creating a song, words spoken over a beat. This week we had Christine to assist with creating beats and art through music. Singing is not allowed due to Covid as it exhales too much air into the atmosphere, despite being masked: so we chant or this week the words were spoken, very monotone, almost robotically.  Each person was given a small instrument, such as an egg shaker or mini tambourine, creating our own beats – copy the person in front and add your own and so on twice round the room. We aimed to do a ‘drop’ in the music so at a signal half the room stops then at the second signal all joined back in. We discussed journeys from drug addiction to a different life now, changes chosen, changes forced on you (Lockdown or serious accident, travel or migration). We chanted: I don’t think This world will ever change. Added our own words. Matt walked round the room while the beat swayed hypnotically and and voices chanted… 

Sue Dean

The BOOK OF CHANGES project is funded by the Heritage Emergency Fund, supporting homeless and vulnerable people to participate in making the arthur+martha illuminated manuscript BOOK OF OURS. This project is partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

I explode into a million seeds

A Book of Ours, poetry

We’re making an illuminated manuscript and songs, telling the story of homeless and vulnerable lives. In the last three weeks, volunteer Sue Dean has photographed these BOOK OF OURS workshops at the Booth Centre homeless resource. Here is Sue’s first full blog account, to accompany her pictures…

The session started very jovial, with some friendly banter and teasing about looking like bomb disposal experts with the full face clear covers. A question was asked of the group: `If we could change one thing in the world what would it be?`

Answers varied from Trump and Johnson removal to giving independence to the North, equalising wealth, eradicating homelessness and feeding Hungry Children. Peaceful protests, lobby Parliament — and my personal favourite: Educate MPs on the impact of what they’re doing to the people and to the country. Also — as added extras — look after each other, equality, community and kindness, grow your own veggies if possible or join a community allotment.

We turned our thoughts and feelings into writing, poems and songs. Concentration and soft murmurings of different languages within the class were all that could be heard. We started a clap-clap chant (singing in groups isnt allowed under Covid Rules as it pushes out more oxygen). Each person read over the beat what they had written, sometimes in their first language other than English. This was recorded and the Mandolin played in the background. The whole group feel a sense of achievement and very happy — but desperate to hear the fully produced version!

Sue Dean

Writing, performing and recording A Million Seeds. Phil recording, written pages by Masoud, Jason and Farina, the rhythm section Songwriter Matt Hill and volunteer. All photos Sue Dean.

The BOOK OF CHANGES project is funded by the Heritage Emergency Fund, supporting homeless and vulnerable people to participate in making the arthur+martha illuminated manuscript BOOK OF OURS. This project is partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

How do we get through?

A Book of Ours, poetry

How do I survive? It’s a question that everyone has to face, at some point, especially in these plagued times. But people who have experienced homelessness, and the support networks around them, give a lot of thought to it. Perhaps some of their answers will be useful to you, right now. 

This workshop at the Booth centre asked people for their survival tips. They jotted down their answers and then read them the top of a backing chanted by everyone in the room: “How do we get through?” The first suggestion is in the word “we” – you need other people to help and in return help them.

I’m looking at the poems right now, with their shopping lists of survival. First, as Mr Darwin once suggested, you need to adapt, to change. Connect to the deeper forces of life – breathe, follow your instincts, find joy in the power of life. Look after your resources (food, friends, shelter, morale). Be careful whose “truth” you listen to. And most of all, create calm inside yourself so that panic doesn’t stop you thinking clearly.

The poems for the Book of Changes are developing into chanted songs, like the old mediaeval Gregorian chants but with more than a hint of contemporary rap music mixed in. The first two weeks of making A Book of Changes have centred on people’s personal experience, formed into poems. This week we worked together as a group, bound together by the music that we made, chanting, clapping, stamping, banging on objects. Glueing us all together was songwriter Matt Hill, in the Booth for the first time since February. 

Then we discover a talented rapper in our group and so we explore finding rhythm in our spoken words…

Matt: “Covid measures mean we aren’t allowed to sing inside. So instead we head back into history to the early Middle Ages when monophonic chanting was the music of the moment. Our monotone voices chanting in unison, with no harmony or melody, suddenly seem relevant and powerful. The repetition of the phrase “How do we get through?” adds weight to this important question. Then we discover a talented rapper in our group and so we explore finding rhythm in our spoken words.”

For me, the whole session was shot through with many tiny moments of intimacy and tenderness. I was deeply moved to hear our support worker Harriet’s words, which felt like they’d been offered many times, in many desperate moments: “Just make it through the next 5 minutes. The 5 minutes after will be easier. I promise.” 

Perhaps most beautiful and mysterious of all were the instructions on survival given in Polish, Lithuanian and Finnish languages. I don’t speak any of those tongues, but the magic of the sounds seemed to suggest many meanings, many possibilities, and although we translated them to English, the words themselves hummed with a different music…

Volunteer Sue Dean took the photos and made these notes about the workshop: “An uplifting session. We started with learning to clap a basic beat. Then putting a word at the start and end of the beat, but continuing it in a round. The group enjoyed hearing a beat form from their own hands. An upturned plastic box was used for a drum, and a mandolin for the riff. We then wrote small poems or lyrics of experiences or memories. The whole group clapped and sang the basic beat while individual lyrics were recorded. The group music-making was a massive success – people still chattering about it over dinner and as they left. Shakespeare – if music be the food of love play on!”   

The BOOK OF CHANGES project is funded by the Heritage Emergency Fund, supporting homeless and vulnerable people to participate in making the arthur+martha illuminated manuscript BOOK OF OURS. This project is partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.