Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A hidden history in the heart of Westminster

It was an extraordinary experience for us to launch The Homeless Library at The Houses of Parliament yesterday - the first history of British homelessness. A powerful thing, to hear the voices of people who've experienced homelessness speaking in this place. It's been too long...

E's statement:

"I have been assaulted many times. A hundred times. One time I was in hospital afterwards, going under for an operation. The doctor asked me, 'What will you think about, when you're going under the anaesthetic?' I said, 'I'll think of gardening, and my nieces and nephew.' 

"We all need good things in life, otherwise there's no point in living. This project is about making something good out of the bad stuff."

Jack Quashie's statement for THE HOMELESS LIBRARY launch:

"Homeless people all the time face abuse. How to stop this abuse? It's about respecting the homeless. If other people are educated: 'This is a homeless person. It is not their will to be homeless. It has happened for a reason.' Most homeless people have education, family, most are professionals. It can happen to anyone. Homelessness canot be stopped, but what can be stopped is the abuse."

Ann Coffey MP:

"This is not only a history of facts, the very material of each of these handmade books in The Homeless Library tells its own story. It is full of emotion. I feel I can reach out and touch it."

Sara Hilton, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North West:

“I was honoured to be in parliament yesterday to see first-hand the amazing artwork that has been produced for the homeless library. This feels like a really important moment - giving voice to a marginalised group and telling their hidden history in the heart of Westminster. We are proud to have supported it with National Lottery players’ money and I’d urge everyone to make time to go and see it when it goes to the South Bank, and then tours the North West later this year.”

Jonathan Billings, Manager of The Wellspring homeless resource centre:

"Service users and staff have taken part in The Homeless Library, this has been an empowering experience for all involved and one that will live long in the memory. Providing homeless and disadvantaged people opportunities to get involved in creative experiences is very meaningful, it helps people raise their confidence and their ability to work positively around areas of their lives that present problems and barriers.   The Wellspring has been delighted to have worked with arthur+martha on this project."

Marcus Jones, Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

"The Houses of Parliament is a place that is full of history. By bringing your Homeless Library here, and speaking here you, are connected to all of our history. It will be heard."

Photography by Paul Jones. Photographs at Upper Waiting Hall, The Houses of Parliament, 24 May 2016. Many thanks to Paul for kindly donating his time and skill to this project.

The Homeless Library project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Monday, 23 May 2016


Homeless people in Greater Manchester and Stockport have handmade the first history of British homelessness, which will debut at the Houses of Parliament next week.

Ann Coffey, MP for Stockport, and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, will open the exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall of the House of Commons at 3pm on May 24, 2016. The exhibition will be on display in Parliament for the rest of the week and then go on to public exhibition at the Southbank Festival of Love, 9 July-18 September and will tour venues in NW England. 

The Homeless Library has been made by local homeless people and opens up previously untold stories of the lives of homeless people through interviews, artworks, poems and handmade books. This unique and unprecedented history of British homelessness has been devised by arts organisation arthur+martha, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Ms Coffey said: 

"This project is both a piece of history and an art piece. I don't think I've ever come across anything like it before. It's beautiful. These are fascinating stories that need to be heard. Being heard is something that everybody needs, it makes us a society. Maybe these books are something we can all learn from - and maybe we can help the storytellers." 

Many homeless people live and die as ‘invisibles’. When they die their very existence sometimes leaves no mark. This project opens up an untold chronicle, that exists off the pages of official history books.

Instead, it is a history based on conversations: people's descriptions of their own lives, as told by contemporary homeless people and also older people who witnessed homelessness from the 1930s onwards. Along with interviews, there are artworks and poems. Many people involved found that these discussions and making the artworks and poems were a transformative experience.

Each book in the Library is handmade - often recycling secondhand books, which were customised and handwritten. Recycled secondhand books make the point that homeless history has been crowded out by other voices.

The Homeless Library is supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund and partnered with The Booth Centre, The Wellspring, and Bury Art Museum. Alongside photos of the handwritten books, you can read the interviews at The Homeless Library page on Facebook and blogspot

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Making the Homeless Library

Why are the stories of homeless people, and the entire history of British homelessness, missing from our book shelves?  What impact would making such a history have on homeless people?  How does making art and poetry impact on the lives of homeless people?  The Homeless Library is a project that sets out to try and answer some of these questions. It's history told by homeless people themselves, for all of us.

"It's been one of the most interesting things Ive ever done, it's my favourite two hours of the week." Tim

"It's put me back on the ladder to life." Danny

"(homeless people) have been able to explore new issues, enabled to be creative, have a distraction from their everyday life on the street... they feel they have a voice and been able to tell their own stories and learn about other people's stories. For people who have been so excluded in society and so often ignored you just can't quantify how important that is." Amanda Croome, CEO, The Booth Centre. 

Film maker John Felix spent a day with us during a Homeless Library session in the Booth Centre; he made the mini-documentary shared here, a little film full of gentle power. Perhaps the ladder to life is finding out how to make meaning of life. 

Thank you again to all of those who took part, there would be no history without your words.

The Homeless Library is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The Rumplestiltskin Principle

Riff Raff, embroidering

The Booth Centre 3 May 2016, Sing me to Sleep

Phil writes:

The story of Rumplestiltskin is the story of naming, the power of giving names. In order to escape the spell cast by the mischievous Rumplestiltskin, you first have to guess his name. This session for the Sing Me to Sleep project also explored the possibilities of naming: a writing exercise in which participants named a problem they wanted to shed and then put it into a bottle, leaving it behind them.

Once again a little gaggle of writers pursued the age-old shape of a fairytale in order to find their own truths. This was a session that I'd thought might become heavy, weighted down with the job of facing fears. In fact, it was a light-hearted afternoon and the pieces of writing that emerged were joyously silly, mocking the demons in their bottles: "Rumplestitlskin you're a bumpkin!"

Jack stitching his name

But today was a breakthrough for another reason. This was the session in which the collective stitching on the quilt finally clicked. A group of men and women sat with this strange cloth of dreams that we are constructing and they stitched as never before. In fact they didn't want to stop. There is a power in seeing this group of homeless folk stitching that is hard to imagine. It brings with it a peace and concentration that is rare in the centre and (from our understanding) rare on the street too.

People were stitching their names onto a tree trunk in the forest that the quilt depicts. They did it carefully, slowly, talking quietly as they worked. As one of the participants left, he said, very simply: "Thank you, that was good." For a little moment, it felt very big.