A Book of Ours (2018-2021)

“This book — here you have our world at your fingertips. We are terrible and we are beautiful.”

Chris Keane, participant

A BOOK OF OURS is “an ancient manuscript for our time”.  It tells the inside story of contemporary homelessness, using the form of medieval manuscripts, especially the Book of Hours. By echoing an ancient medieval heritage, it gives a place for contemporary homeless heritage too— a heritage that can be recognised as having value and beauty, as well as containing its darker side. The book has been scribed by over 150 people with experience of homelessness, or who are vulnerable to homelessness. In it they depict their lives through poetry and prose, artworks, calligraphy, songs and chants — all inspired by studying the tradition of illuminated manuscripts.

The Covid pandemic impacted on the project, but did not stop it. Emergency funding was obtained from the Heritage Lottery in autumn 2020 to run socially-distanced workshops, use activity packs, deliver one-to-one workshops by phone and to experiment with various Covid-safe techniques. 

Made 2019-21 at the Booth Centre, Back on Track and other support centres, such as Invisible (Manchester) and Inspiring Change Manchester. A BOOK OF OURS debuted at Bury Art Museum in July 2021 with an exhibition of the unbound pages of the manuscript and finally launched as a leather-bound original illuminated manuscript of over 100 pages at Manchester Cathedral, in October 2021 with performances by participants. The book will go to its permanent home at John Rylands Library in April 2022 where it will be on display among the world-class collection of ancient manuscripts held by the Library.

A BOOK OF OURS was devised and directed by Lois and Phil, who led many of the workshops, along with Calligrapher Stephen Raw and songwriter Matt Hill. Digital materials from the project include a free download of the catalogue (see link below) containing all the pages of the manuscript, plus an extensive Commentary by Professor Jeffrey Robinson. The entire song cycle, made in collaboration with Matt Hill and Phil, is available on Soundcloud, Spotify and Amazon for download.

10-minute video, including interviews with the makers. A BOOK OF OURS gives a wide cross-section of hugely individual lives, reasserting the identity and the individuality of people who are sometimes dismissed as “homeless” when they are so much more.


“To start with, it was a place to go where I wouldn’t drink or take drugs until later on in the day. Maybe learn something, and I learnt lots and lots. I learned that I can write, that I can write stuff other people might actually be interested in… the education they have given me is unbelievable.” 

Participant Lawrence McGill, quoted in The Meteor online newspaper.
photo courtersy of The Meteor.org

Featuring a photo of every page in the hand made book, participants quotes, forewords from Amanda Croome (Booth Centre) and John Hodgson (John Rylands Library) a full list of participants, and short essays from artist Lois Blackburn, writer Philip Davenport, musician Matt Hill, Calligrapher Stephen Raw and Professor Jeffrey Robinson.


Musician Matt Hill worked with people to create songs from their original poems, inspired by Medieval music, here you can listen a selection of these songs.

“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

Another extraordinary body of work created through passion, experience and the desire to share stories. arthur+martha deep-delve into the rich lives of people affected by homelessness through word, song and beautifully affecting imagery co-creating a Book of Ours.

Dr Clive Parkinson, Arts for Health

Project in numbers

155 participants took part, 102 men and 53 women.

100 pages in the handmade bound book

Exhibitions

2021 Bury Art Museum

2021 Manchester Cathedral

Archived

2022 onwards John Rylands Library

More Information

More on our blog 

Twitter @arthurandmartha

Flickr portfolio

Facebook page 

Instagram

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Leave the light on

When we had young kids, homeless
I was thankful for shelter, but
We were full of mice and
The kids slept on the floor.

I walked out my own house
I understand why people are homeless 
Been there. It was like a storm
Like when you’re in the rain.

Out of the hole. Prayers answered
New house, thankful but no furniture
And the kids slept on the floor.
The kids slept on the floor.

Lyndia

With thanks to all the National Lottery players and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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