WAKE WITH THE SUN IN MY MOUTH. The big book launches at Manchester Cathedral.

A Book of Ours

A BOOK OF OURS is finally in the world, you can visit it in person at Manchester Cathedral for the next 6 months until March 2022, before it goes onto John Rylands Library for its place in their permanent collection — and in history. Because this is a big, big book containing many lives in an untold history: the story of British homelessness.

Manchester Cathedral, 14 October 2021. From top left: Chris Keane, Christine Johnson, Philip Davenport and Lawrence McGill, Calligrapher Stephen Raw (in green) sharing the book with audience members, artist Lois Blackburn showing a golden page from A BOOK OF OURS.

“This book, here you have our world at your fingertips. Damaged in every bloody way, look at the state of us. We are terrible and we are beautiful.” Chris Keane

On 14 October A BOOK OF OURS was launched with readings, singings and an official welcome of the manuscript into the Cathedral by Canon David Holgate, who also blessed the book for good measure!

The experience of homelessness is usually shared quietly, person to person, through private conversations that disappear into the air. And as a rule, these experiences go no further. In A BOOK OF OURS, such quiet conversations have finally been recorded on a page, using the exact words of the tellers. And not just recorded. Here they are given rich colours, decorated in gold, and most importantly of all they have been given time — time to be heard, time to arrive on the page, time to be witnessed for their own beauty.

While the world was going into lockdown it was a great antidote knowing that poems were still being written, songs were still being sung over the phone and artworks being made — those little conversations were still happening. This book is constructed with paper and ink, yes, but really its materials are memories and hopes, jokes, worries, grief, joys, the things that make us alive.

WAKE EVERY MORNING CAN’T BLOODY MOVE

Wake in the darkness of me

Wake with the sun in my mouth.

A BOOK OF OURS Calendar, lines from October.

We’d like to thank all who came to the Cathedral on 14 October for such a big-hearted reception to A BOOK OF OURS. The performers Chris Keane, Lawrence McGill, Andy Crossley, Joan and Christine Johnson all shone brightly, illuminating the pages with deep feeling. Thanks is due to all the makers. Thanks also to the Booth Centre and Back on Track for their extraordinary help for nearly three years, and for the support from the Cathedral and John Rylands Library where A BOOK OF OURS, a book of homelessness, will have its permanent home.

Supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We wish to acknowledge the unswerving commitment and belief of the Heritage Lottery Fund and all National Lottery Players for making this piece of homeless heritage possible during difficult times.

The launch was reviewed in The Meteor online news co-operative here and a short video documenting the event is here.

Binding A BOOK OF OURS – by Mark Furness

A Book of Ours

Bookbinder Mark Furness describes making 100 loose pages into a book that medieval monks would have recognised…

We are delighted that A BOOK OF OURS has been finished and now has a handsome leather cover, designed to last for centuries. It will have its final home in John Rylands Library, alongside neighbouring manuscripts that are hundreds of years old. A BOOK OF OURS contains a history that has not previously made it into official records — the histories and experiences of people who’ve experienced homelessness.

Mark Furness: Books of Hours were often personalised small books, lavishly decorated and bound, devotion equating to the wealth the owner spent in the books creation.  Popular in Medieval times when book production was generally located in monasteries and centres of power, the most robust method of binding was of a Gothic structure. Inspired by such works in the John Rylands Research Institute and Library, I was asked to bind the pages in a form appropriate to that inspiration.

Fully sewn and bound in leather with wooden boards to control the strong but restless parchment that was used for the pages, it seemed the most appropriate structure to use in binding A Book of Ours.  Not only for the historical simpatico but the larger format of the pages would benefit from a binding that is so strong. The main hurdle was taking the individual pages of the project and making them sewable. The solution is a guard book structure; strips of paper are added to the edge of each page, they are folded, providing the folded edge to sew through and the excess paper compensating slightly for the overlap of page and strip.

Creating the Guards

The paper stock used for the manuscript was a combination of 130-190 gsm paper, written and decorated with a variety of paints and inks.  The paper is fairly rigid, which is fine, but for a book the pages need to flex; when the book opens the pages need to rise up from the spine, to splay and lay flat. The guards were constructed from 90gsm Fabriano Ingress paper, a fine quality paper with strength and great flexibility, of an off-white/beige colour. In this arrangement the sewing passes through four layers of paper in the guard, a good amount of paper to sew through that allows the sections to sit close together and not have the sewing span large gaps. Guards are attached to the verso (backside) of the pages.  No decoration is obscured and the when the pages are opened it won’t pull against the adhesion between guard and page.

Each page is glued in sequence, the setting of the first page in the section guiding the addition of each subsequent page. From 100 pages this made 25 sections, each section took about 15-20 mins to set as it had to be done precisely, but even with such precision the sections will be variable in their height. The guards are trimmed to match the page edges. All the sections were placed on the sewing frame and sewing cords placed evenly spaced along the spine of the manuscript.

Covering the Book

Being such a large book, finding a piece of leather large enough to easily cover the book meant it would have to be calf leather.  A Gambetta skin in gold was ordered from Harmatan, split to a thickness of about 0.9mm.  The covering leather works best when the spine of the leather runs along the spine of the book. The leather is cut to size and the edges and areas of overlap from the turn-ins on the spine are pared thinner. 

The spine of the book is lined with paper to even out the surface and give the leather a clear surface to adhere to.  It is then ready to apply the leather to the book.  Being such a large book the process of covering was difficult with just one person, taking pictures during the process was limited. With the book complete the title panel supplied was pasted into the recessed panel. A label in gold foil on tan leather was added to the spine: A BOOK OF OURS.

Timings

Preparation of sections – 9 hours

Sewing – 7 hours

Board preparation and attachment – 6 hours

Leather preparation and covering – 4 hours

Finishing – 4 hours

Total binding time – 30 hours

Original page from A BOOK OF OURS

With thanks to all National Lottery Players and the National Lottery Heritage Fund who made this project possible.

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

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.

Swan-building

poetry, Whisper to me alone

When my brothers and sister and myself were little, mum would sit us round the kitchen table with bits of cardboard and paper and paints. We’d splash away together, making pictures, or building space rockets. It was her method of crowd control, it stopped us from arguing and getting into mischief. Mum would be there keeping an eye on us, while making the tea. 

They were some of the happiest times I ever experienced; a feeling of purpose and a feeling of belonging.

That memory flashed into my mind during the ICM workshop I was invited to last week. They’re a group of artists who hook up together every week to be in each other’s company while they create artworks. At the moment they meet on Zoom, because of the Covid restrictions.

The group was led by Dylan, who suggested swans as this week’s theme. (It’s important to know that Back on Track and ICM are based in the wonderful Swan Building, in Manchester.) While people drew swans, they chatted in a gently distracted way and I wrote down the sentences that jumped out, arranging the words into a poem. It was a wonderfully peaceful way of working together, full of little anecdotes and jokes and all the while the drawings came alive on paper.

Last swim of the day. Group visual poem 2020

Maybe because my own recollection of childhood was sparked, I particularly noticed people’s stories of their childhood — their encounters with swans, geese, and of course the ugly duckling story. Somehow the poem reflects the journey of the ugly duck, the journey we all make forward from childhood, trying to reach our full potential. 

After the poem was written and read back, Dylan was kind enough to make it into a visual poem of a swan, which you can see above. What you can’t see, but can only imagine, is the sweet-natured atmosphere of this group, who welcomed me into their little gang and for a while treated me as one of the family, while they made art together. 

Swan lovers. Anonymous 2020

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/

Paul Crudgington represented Back on Track www.backontrackmanchester.org.uk Several Back on Track learners have been involved with WHISPER TO ME ALONE.

MASH is a charity providing a range of confidential and non-judgemental services to women working in the sex industry in Greater Manchester. 

The arthur+martha project WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people in Manchester during lockdown. The project centres on journals of writing, art and song lyrics.

Last swim of the day. Anonymous 2020

The state of things

Here Comes the Sun, Necklace of Stars, Projects, quilts, Whisper to me alone

“..I’m glad you like it as it was a joy to stitch. Your idea just sparked something inside me, making me want to do some stitching which was very welcome as I’m finding it difficult to settle to anything at the moment.”

Participant, Here Comes the Sun

 

Sara Scott Sun2

Sara Scott, Here Comes the Sun

 

I’m beginning to hear recurrent themes in the feedback to our two current projects Here Comes the Sun and A Necklace of Stars.  Many of our participants are finding it difficult to settle to anything. People describe having fuzzy heads, being overly tired, difficulties in even making even small decisions.

 

“What’s stopping me? It’s the state of things, I’m normally busy, involved with other things.  Normally I paint and paint and sew and sew, but I haven’t in ages. It’s been very, very strange. I can go outside, and talk to my neighbours, and clap for the NHS, but it’s the first time in my life I’ve been like this. I need something to give me a kick up the backside.”

Participant A Necklace of Stars

vintage dyed pillowcase

Here Comes the Sun. Vintage pillowcase, dyed, ready for embroidered poetry.

 

But counter to that, I have had heard from many other people saying that doing something creative is helping them re-focus and spark something in the brain. How interesting our brains are!

For many it has given a prompt to create something with embroidery for the first time in many years and connect with different generations of the same family:

“Thank you so much from my daughter and I for encouraging us to dig out my late grandmothers stash of embroidery threads to choose some sunny colours for our sun quilt squares. My grandmother was a very enthusiastic and skilled needlewomen and she would have loved the idea of this quilt…. (about her daughters embroidery) It is a while since I picked up an embroidery needle and as my stitches show I am more than a little rusty (for which I appologise) I have, however really enjoyed focusing on something creative during these strangest of times. We look forward to seeing the finished quilt.”

Participant, Here Comes the Sun.

One of the delights of the projects is the way news spreads by word of mouth. Having a project to work on gives us all opportunities to think, talk and focus on something different with friends and family, an escape from the news, and Covid. 

Have shared widely, and this has kick-started a WhatsApp group, as I was asked to set up a crafty one a couple of weeks ago. We can encourage each other daily in there and do other bits and bobs too.

Participant, Here Comes the Sun

What a beautiful idea. I’m definitely going to do this, and share with friends

Participant, Here Comes the Sun

 

Catherine's sun

Catherine Tombs embroidery for Here Comes the Sun. 

But there is always more sharing to do, the more people engaged in our projects with different perspectives on life, the more exciting and greater the depth the project our project gains.

Everyone signed up to our project A Necklace of Stars is currently housebound. Many where before the lock down. So far we have worked with people aged from 65 to 90. Many haven’t done any embroidery since school, but some are very experienced and confident in the creative arts. Everyone has a unique way of looking at the theme of the stars, everyone a story to tell.

Phil and I continually look at ways we can make the projects accessible to everyone, whatever their circumstances. Thanks to support from Arts Council England, we’re thrilled to be working with Booth Centre to invite people who are, or have been homeless to join in. They are being invited to draw suns that our volunteers will stitch on their behalf, a kind of art commissioning without any money changing hands. In addition I will be sending out packs of needles, threads and materials to people at the Booth who want to have a go at sewing themselves. I’m so thrilled to be working in this way and can’t wait to see how it progresses. 

Sarah B's sun

Sarah Burgess, embroidery for Here Comes the Sun.

Todays blog was written by Lois Blackburn, lead artist arthur+martha

A Necklace of Stars is a collaboration between housebound, isolated older people in Derbyshire,  arthur+martha,  Arts Derbyshire   DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. 

Here Comes the Sun, A quilt in the time of Covid 19. Part of the Whisper to me Alone project.

King of Flowers

A Book of Ours

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Today we were visited by Professor Jeffrey Robinson from Glasgow University, who came bearing questions – and that of course leads us to question ourselves. What is this stuff we are making…?

A BOOK OF OURS is an in-between thing, constructed of artwork, poetry and music. And yet it is only itself when all of these come together.

The original books of hours in medieval times were also multipurpose. They were used as a text for prayers, a manuscript for singing from, and a spiritual guide that depicted visions of the important saints, angels and devils to dodge or make friends with. Such a book would be left open on an altar for marking out the whole day in churches, abbeys, monasteries, and in palaces. 

Because we have decided to copy the format of the old books of hours, it makes sense that we also have images, words and music in our book. But there are other reasons too.

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Some of the makers are most confident telling their story through words. Others struggle with literacy and are more comfortable representing their lives on a page through images. For others again, it’s the combination of word and image that is crucial, both together. And now we are working with songwriter Matt Hill, the music is yet another means of reaching out…

Combining sound, colour, and verbal description, gives a huge range of expression — and that’s what you need if you’re trying to capture the essence of you. Particularly to describe your inner visions, perhaps when under the influence of substances, or when the emotions that drive your life are waves so colossal that they can only be shown by overloading all systems of communication.

Or simply to inscribe joy, as a flower.

The faces of strange hauntings fill the medieval books of hours and the imagination of the whole medieval world. Call them devils or angels, gargoyles, fairies or bogeymen, they are most definitely around. Perhaps they are forever part of human experience whatever name you give them.  They peep out of the page corners from old manuscripts, they’re in paintings too, and in churches, as carvings or sculptures. These photos that I took in Saint Laurence’s in Ludlow show the carved wooden seats for the choir. There you’ll find mermaids, witches, owls, even the pagan Green man. He peers at you curiously, as if you’re the mystery. And from his mouth comes new growth, a poem written in leaves.

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Sing Lullaby

A Book of Ours

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Brother James, Brother James
I am you, I am you
Roof and food and family, roof and food and family
I need you, I need you.

Brother Ladbrokes, bother lad brokes
Stop robbing me, stop robbing me
I have a got an acca, give you a smacka
Then I win, no cheating.

The Frere Jacques Variations

 

We returned to the Booth Centre today for our last big run of workshops on the Book of Ours project.

Over the last year, this blog has documented our slow but steady progress as we’ve made an illuminated manuscript together, a book designed to outlast all our lifetimes. It’s been a dream project for Lois and I, and one that’s brought delight and sometimes shared sadness, as our scribes and artists — many of whom have lived experience of homelessness — make this work.

Several of the most famous medieval illuminated manuscripts contain musical scores. Today we brought music into our workshops for the first time with singer and songwriter Matt Hill, who fitted melodies to some of the poetry from last year — and invites new songwriting.

Singing together can be a joyous thing. It can also be challenging to those of us who don’t have an easy relationship with pitch, following a rhythm or remembering a melody. Added to that is the embarrassment about singing that many people carry from their schooldays. And yet it was by singing a children’s song that we began to open up.

Brother Stephen, Brother Stephen / Where are you, where are you? Hair like copper wires, hair like copper wires / Where are you? Your eyes were blue… Matt delicately built the confidence of the group, bringing everyone who wanted to join us into the ring of music and charming songs from us — some moving, some humorous but all of them made together, out of our own voices. One instrument made of many people.

Esme, Esme, Esme, Esme
I love you, I love you.
You are my sister, you are my sister
You my all, you my all.

Love and peace, love and peace
Here to stay, here to stay
Everybody’s laughter and forever after
God I pray, here to stay.

Matt made it look easy but there’s a lot juggling required to bring together a group of people with complex needs, energies, backgrounds, states of intoxication, states of mental health.

So we played music — and it felt like play, not work. Songs flowed, rapidly finding their form. For instance, The Frère Jacques Variations. From being a distant childhood memory, it refocused into a song about memory, connection, and a picture of our city now, the lives it contains and the earth of Manchester itself.

In the afternoon the session quietened as they often do, became more meditative, more inward. Still the songs came, but this time more as individual statements. One of the most powerful lyrics was a simple, heartfelt goodbye to someone. It was written with tears as accompaniment this time, rather than Matt’s guitar. After it was done, the writer looked me full in the face for the first time that day and said. “I feel lighter.” If nothing else had happened that day, it would’ve been worth being there, for that moment alone.

Sister City, Sister City
Are you sleeping, are you sleeping?
Underneath the concrete, underneath the concrete
Is the earth, is the earth.

Brother-sister, brother-sister
We need you, you need us
To get us through this, to get us through this
You need us, we need you.

The Frere Jacques Variations
With contributions from James, Keith, Lawrence, Flora, Debbie, Gary and Mo

She of a golden heart

A Book of Ours

The last session for now at Back on Track, and it’s sad to go. The group bonded together and launched themselves into making their mark on the big blank pages of A BOOK OF OURS. Over the last six weeks they have found ways to inscribe their identity, the fingerprint of themselves, using poetry, art, calligraphy, colour, design. Their work has been subtle and beautiful. Often it has been bravely revealing too. As we say goodbye to them there is a wrench because it feels like there is still so much more to be said, so much further to go with these artist-writers.

During the course of our three hour session, pages are inscribed, some illuminated with colours so vivid that they conjure a different world and way of seeing. Lawrence has devised a wonderfully elegant page for his description of his “favourite sin”, greed. The poem that it contains celebrates greed in a manner that would make Mrs Thatcher proud, and then halfway through the whole thing is reversed and the greedy “I” becomes the need of us — and “us” is homeless, penniless.

Meanwhile Chris has evoked a spell for meeting your own Death face to face, using an old Icelandic line. The piece is written in runes just the way it would’ve been hundreds of years ago. It is an ancient text in style and yet it also challenges the very idea of illuminated manuscripts, which vikings were famous for burning.

M has echoed the warmth of the sun in his carefully chosen and inscribed line from the Office of the Dead. This is a long poem about dying, but also about new beginnings and his page contains the green of new growth.

Finally Shannon has celebrated her mother in a page that glows with gold and with affection. Truly it is infused with love for Clarissa, she of a golden heart.

There’s always a lot of work going on behind the scenes in these workshops. Lois and I will have planned for it go in many direction, following people’s mood. Then on the day, alongside us are the volunteers, who gently support, encourage, lend their specialist skills and observe. Today, for instance, Gary is working on the subtle details around a capital letter. It’s a Miniaturists’ heaven he’s creating, a tiny nighttime planet hanging on a letter, with attendant owls. And as we work, Jess is carefully observing the session, making notes on the interactions, on the tiny moments of connection and disconnect that join us all together.

Crosstown Traffic

A Book of Ours, Projects

 

Our new volunteer Gary writes about the most recent illuminated manuscript workshop for the project A Book of Ours, at Back on Track:

Everybody is serious today. There’s only one more session at Back on Track, and pieces need to be finished in time. People very quickly sink into their own projects, painting, drawing, writing, calligraphy; everybody working quietly either with Phil, Lois or Steven, or just getting on with things by themselves. Mark opens the window because it’s so warm in the room, and you can hear the gentle hum of traffic outside, birds wishing it was spring.

I’m painting squares of black ink for Chris to try out as backgrounds for his amazing runic lettering. You’d think black was black, but no, there are lots of different shades, textures, depths, to play with. Chris opts for the blackest, and his red runes really shout from the page.

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Across the room, Lawrence is working on ‘Greed’ – Steven with his new lightbox helps focus and trace the Gothic script to tremendous effect. The finished page looks amazing, small imperfections, smudges and idiosyncrasies adding spontaneity.

Shannah and Mark can mostly progress their work alone: Mark’s calligraphy skills are growing fast and Shannah’s poem ‘Clarissa, Mother’ is simply beautiful as she scribes it. The letters make bright paths on the page.

The quiet and concentration is only broken briefly when Phil mistakes NWA for Madonna, and the room cracks up. It’s an easy mistake to make.

Later, as I sketch Jimi Hendrix as a saint, with an enormous afro halo, I wonder what miracles he performed in order to be sanctified. The song ‘Cross-Town Traffic’ runs through my head and mixes with the sounds of construction work and car engines coming through the open window.

Then suddenly time is up, and we’re all snapped out of our individual bubbles, to share with the group what we’ve been working on. Every piece is so completely different, but linked by experience, the experience of being human I suppose, and we’re all very rightly proud of ourselves. We leave the window open for the next group to listen to the hum of the traffic.

This arthur+martha project is based on the making of an illuminated manuscript  A BOOK OF OURS, at Back on Track, the Booth Centre and other support centres in Manchester. It 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.

We are often helped by skilled volunteers who bring varied life experiences and insights.

A BOOK OF OURS is supported by HLF.