(Invisible) Manchester: seeing homelessness in new ways

poetry, Whisper to me alone

Invisible (Manchester) is a​ social enterprise​ that trains people affected by ​homelessness ​to become walking tour guides of Manchester. You might recently have seen their new electronic billboard project around Manchester.

“It is a community-led project which uses the city as our gallery space. What better way to address the “invisible” than making it ​visible? ​Danny, Laura and Andy, our main guides, have worked alongside the artist, John Hewitt (an illustrator who has focused on issues surrounding homelessness) to build a bridge between image and words, aiming to raise awareness of homelessness…”

The photo sequence features two lines from a poem by tour guide Danny Collins, alongside one of John Hewitt’s many drawings. Danny was a key contributor to the arthur+martha project The Homeless Library and is now a regular guide for Invisible (Manchester). His tour is a poetic exploration that transports you to the flip side of Manchester and into his own experience of homelessness. Each stop is marked with a poignant poetry piece from his time on the streets. Danny is currently working on a new book of poetry and has contributed to the arthur+martha Whisper To Me Alone pandemic project with his extraordinary lyric for the song SAME OLD SUN.

Invisible (Manchester) breaks down negative stereotypes surrounding homelessness while also providing people who have been homeless with transferable skills to expand their horizons. Visit the ​website​ for more information, or to book a tour. (Online tours currently offered.)

A Poetry Bubble, Pt 2

Necklace of Stars, poetry

Necklace of Stars participant Gill Ormond writes (below) about the experience of making visual poems, themed on the night sky. Gill has combined her art skills with poems that are part-image. In part 1 of her blog account, last week, she described writing her own poem and translating it into images. Here, she has remade two poems by the Scottish poet/artist Ian Hamilton Finlay in her own style, using loose hand-drawn letters and celebrating the fuzzy precision of pencils. Gill has moved Finlay’s crisp, clear graphics into a mystery space of haze and cobwebby lettering…

Gill Ormond homage to Sea Poppy by Ian Hamilton Finlay

Gill’s Project timeline

Week1 – Challenge – Go look at the stars and write, without looking at the paper, what they evoke in me.
Result – panic. That week no stars showed. Think creatively. Use their non-show to get my thoughts on paper. A poem emerged!
Week 2 –  Challenge – Fold and cut the written words in two. Move the lines up and down and see what emerges. 
Result –  as if by magic , a poem which distilled down with clarity to the heart of the experience.
Week3 – Move away from the typed words and draw them.
Result – illustrated poem with shooting stars and galaxies. With thanks to my Sister who coincidentally sent me her handmade star that I used as the basis for one of my illustrations.
Week 4 – Task Part 1 “Is it possible to imply starry sky without illustrating by stars?” / Task Part 2 – “Put your own take on visual poems by Ian Hamilton Finlay.” 
Result – here are my offerings…

Gill Ormond homage to Star/Steer by Ian Hamilton Finlay

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations.

A Poetry Bubble, Pt 1

Necklace of Stars, poetry

Necklace of Stars participant Gill Ormond writes about the experience of making her visual poem Starsperience:

The air is light
 Bright on my skin
 The starsperience won't show
 The air is frisky
 My life shines
 Yet I stay huddled and small.

“This “Poetry Bubble” (appropriate for the times) of 1:1 phone tuition has allowed me to overcome fears that I would not meet the standard of other people’s work, of failure, of embarassing myself, of always striving to achieve rather than succeeding. I have been able to try my hand in a private way which I hadn’t realised the importance of until writing this piece. I am glad I hadn’t read anyone’s work on the blog til now. I may have run away! It is so moving and beautiful and I can begin to feel my way into its membership.

“I have amazed myself that I have been able to create these offerings. They have been developed following Phil’s suggestions. Another take I have on this statement is that I have been able to develop them using the creative framework Phil has offered. The latter feels empowering and I feel proud I have done so. The words are mine, the eventual designs are mine. However I would never have thought of presenting them in this creative way without skilled tuition…”

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations.

STREET ART PHOTO BY SUE DEAN

A pandemic epic

poetry, Whisper to me alone

#WhisperToMeAlone is a twitter stream of pandemic poems and songs, which give tiny glimpses of homeless and vulnerable lives, in rooms, on streets, isolated in hotels…

Phil Davenport and songwriter Matt Hill have worked with homeless and vulnerable people since May, to make the WHISPER poems and songs, over the course of many phone calls. The songs include recordings of phone calls, impromtu performances and snatched conversations.

“These conversations have gradually turned into a wide ranging poem of many voices, many experiences combining into a remarkable song cycle. All of WHISPER is full of life, full of humour and determination, in the face of this disease. And it’s inspiring, it’ll give any reader or listener the strength to keep on and learn from what’s happening around us. Sometimes life’s biggest lessons come from unusual teachers.” (Phil Davenport)

(Main image – Manchester street art, photographed by Sue Dean)

The project will be tweeted on 15 October and exhibited at Bury Art Museum next year, alongside an an embroidered quilt stitched with participants’ words HERE COMES THE SUN.

Poems, art and songs from WHISPER TO ME ALONE will be tweeted daily at from 15 October onward at https://twitter.com/whisper2mealone

WHISPER TO ME ALONE is funded by Arts Council England and partnered with The Booth Centre and Back on Track in Manchester. Photography throughout the twitter poem is by Sue Dean. Other contributors include members of the Inspiring Change Manchester group, associated with SHELTER, and MASH (a charity providing non-judgemental services to women working in the sex industry). Visual tweets were designed by the poets Tom Jenks and Nathan Williams.

Philip Davenport is a poet who co-directs the arthur+martha organisation with artist Lois Blackburn. For the last decade they’ve collaborated with Manchester’s homeless community. During the pandemic WHISPER TO ME ALONE has resulted in poems, songs and an embroidered quilt. Matt Hill is a songwriter who explores people’s experiences to co-write songs — with prisoners, asylum seekers, people experiencing homelessness, and others.

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