Tuesday, 31 March 2015

New chapter

The Homeless Library: The Wellspring Stockport.

What is the reason? Where did it all go wrong? Was the going wrong necessary, so that things could go right again later? Here, Christine pulls apart the past, looking for the big clue, the fateful gene. Happily, her story ends with hope and a measure of peace.



Where to begin? 7 years ago my dad died, he was 66, an old-fashioned guy dropped dead at home, he had lung cancer, liver cancer and lymph cancer - nobody knew. My dad knew but he didn't tell anyone, he had nursed his own dad. I were devastated my dad were gone.

My brother was 50 when he died. After me dad died my brother couldn't cope on his own, so I had him at mine. He had OCD, drove me mad. He had demons, he was in a children's home in the 1970s. Years later police came knocking at the door, in the 90s, but my brother didn't want to go to court because of the shame of what happened to him. He did nothing wrong. A big paedophile ring.

So he lived with me, my husband and stepson, his girlfriend stayed at the weekend with the baby. He started with headaches February 2013, eventually had a scan - was sick but they sent him home. A headache 24/7. "My hearing is going a bit." He started tremors, started dropping things, went downhill. Doctors came out. One eye went one way or the other eye went the other way. 30th May admitted into hospital with hallucinations, seeing angels, seeing children.

It's called malignant meningitis, later they found a carcinoma eating his brain but not the original cancer - they also thought he had CJD. It was the care and attitude of the hospital that's the problem they tried to treat him for methanol poisoning he wasn't even drinking. Cos they suspected alcoholism. He didn't know how to walk, eat, he had gone incontinent, he had seizures, he'd lost every cognitive skill going. It's what it did to him, me sister and husband. How they treated him weren't nice. When he got admitted it took nine days for a doctor to see him. He was so frightened, crying. He thought he'd be home in a couple of weeks.

Me brother was in hospital 5 1/2 weeks, I've never watched someone disappear completely before. We knew he was going. I watched the machines watched them counting down then he was gone it's just a shell now then I went out and broke my heart.

Me husband thought Tommy held us together and tied us. Maybe he was right.

Christine working on her concertina book

We had decided to move to Poole to help my husband's mum and brother, she had dementia and he had alcoholism. It was a new start but it didn't work out because of family pressure. His ex gave him sanctuary. My brother in law went to hit me, but my husband stopped him, he said she hasn't done anything wrong and I hadn't. I felt embarrassed being at his mum's stayed there till July 28, 2014. Phoned me son he picked me up and I was back in Stockport later that day. They didn't class me homeless because it was a private house. Came up here, put myself on the housing. It's cramped, my son's protective, but I need freedom - he rings me constantly. I've never interfered in their lives and that's all I want. I've got a boyfriend down South, that's how I like it.

Don't get me wrong I was gutted to lose my home but it's not the end of the world it's just possessions that's why I came back here, to be with family. My new place it feels good: one bedroom, living room, it's my own, I can do whatever I want. And at the end of the day my stepson loves me again, I'm not the wicked witch anymore.

Christine's folded book

Now I'm onto the new chapter I don't need to keep the old, I need to let go of dad, my brother, I've got me good memories, the door is closing on stuff. I'm moving on. Closure on me marriage, lots of other things. From 1979 when I had me daughter I've always had someone there. Now I don't it's nice to have the freedom and I just take me into consideration, whether it's good for me or not. I want to get back to that Christine who I  used to be years ago. It's been here for such a long time. Life is for living and enjoying now.

Interview with Lois and Phil at The Wellspring March 2015. The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Homeless Library - Introduction

Jeni McConnell writes:
Thursday was a very new day; a day of new experiences, new people and 
a new place.

I drove over to The Wellspring in Stockport to work with Lois Blackburn, 
one half of arthur+martha for their project, The Homeless Library.  
The Wellspring centre is a charity organisation which provides 
help and support for people who have become homeless.

Lois and Philip are working here with people who visit the centre, 
gathering stories of lives past and passed, spending time quietly listening 
and carefully documenting the words of others. Checking, making sure, 
being careful that the written words express the story as it is given.



Tuesday, 24 March 2015

I'll show you the door, but you're the one who'll have to walk through it

Another voice in The Homeless Library:


My Nan was a traveller, my great great great Nan - the only person in the field. She had a 4 x 4 next to her caravan. She went to her cooker turned it on and the whole caravan went boom! Not even a skeleton a bit of finger here, a tooth there. I never met her only saw photos, she was called Queenie. Then she turned on her cooker one day - boom.

She had curly hair, bushy. She saw me as a baby but I never saw her. Would have called herself a gypsy. She always protected herself: baseball bat, shotgun (licensed). She always had extra shells she took no messing.

I'm more easy going deep down - my friend said if people hit me I should hit them back twice as hard, but I'm not a fighter I'm more a lover than a fighter. I take after my mum, who I lost when I was nine - almost 20 years ago, it destroyed me, destroyed my life, my brain. My body was telling me grow up, my brain was saying stay as you are. Psychiatrist said because it was such a big shock I got learning difficulties and other kind of things. My dad says why do I go around the houses when I talk, but I don't have an answer. Well I have got an answer, but it's me mum and it would upset him. He still loves her and I still love and miss me mum.

It's not easy to get past it, there'll be times when I have a drink and think of me mum and get upset. I go out and cry me eyes out. Me mates give me a cuddle and ask what's wrong with me. My mate brought me back in the pub to cheer me up, it made me feel better but sadder too.

My mum dying, it affected my brain in a big way; people can explain things in the simplest way, I won't have a clue what they're saying.

You talk about a compass to give your life direction. A compass gives me a picture, long grass either side of the path - looking ahead as well as looking at your compass. At a point ahead you can't see any further, you can't see into the future. Tyre tracks tell you, you must be going the right way but basically you're lost in time and the only way to get down that path is to focus. The only way to look into the future is focus. Where does this path go? Disneyland, the past, the future, another life? The only way for you to find out is to walk it and use the compass.

I don't need a compass in my hand, I know north with my brain. Most winds blow north, if you've got strong winds coming at your face, you're heading north; if they're behind you you're going south. I slept in a tent for two months that was enough, I need a house. The cold just seemed to be getting colder and colder and eventually I could see into the future, see blue hands. Made me feel for rough sleepers. If I could, I'd drop a receipt into a rough sleeper's hat, a receipt for a hotel.

I've explained my life to people and it brought a tear to their eye. Feel that in your chest? (Hits chest hard.) That is pain, that is my life. Pain, learn to ignore it - pain isn't just a feeling, pain is a speaker. It'll be there and go and then come back and say do you remember me?

I don't like the place I've been jail it's not a good life. I did three years, three was enough, woke me up as if to say what are you doing here? Do you see my life in that?

I'm good at doing the voices in movies, I get the sound of them in me head. The Matrix, it made me think: we are all in The Matrix. The Matrix is something you'll never decide. As Morpheus in The Matrix said, "I'll show you the door, but you're the one who'll have to walk through it."

Friday, 20 March 2015

Urgency to go nowhere

Last week for the Homeless Library, we very pleased to be joined in our session by Matt Coombes- designer, researcher, artist. He shares his observations about the session at The Wellspring Stockport here: 

Thursday 12 March

Coming from my most recent research, connecting with people who have dementia, walking into The Wellspring Stockport was a new experience. I’ve worked with difficult and sensitive subjects including grieving, menstruation and sweat but each circumstance is unique. Being a new collaborator with Arthur and Martha this was my first time to The Wellspring. I wasn’t sure what to expect or what would be expected of me, despite reassurances from Phil on the way there.

I may describe myself as an ‘empathic creative responder’ but this does not mean that walking into a new situation, involving homeless people, comes easily. When a researcher is engaging new participants there is a period of time acclimatising for the participants. When deep and rich discussions are to be facilitated there is often the same period for the researcher.
The Wellspring, Stockport

I walked in feeling self-conscious. I can speculate that this was due to a combination of personality, being in a new environment as well as being aware of the clothes that I was wearing, the phone I have, and knowing that in some ways the guests here have less than me. I felt different to those around me. This was all despite knowing that people are people and that in almost every situation that I’ve been in I have been able to connect with people in some way.

I started by being lead by Phil and Lois. I sat with Lois while she was talking to a woman who seemed very engaged. It became clear that she was, with considerable creative flair. Once in that situation I was able to settle and involve myself in the conversation and started to make a small concertina book. This gave my hands something to do allowing me to dip in and out of conversation while being able to observe and listen to my surroundings. However, I still felt a tension or activeness in the room with lively conversations going on throughout.

When I was at the table by myself I started to look around, in the middle of making. I took my notebook and jotted down the following.

Lack of overall stillness
Without looking
Calm points
Casting of voices
Urgency to go nowhere
Breaths within a vacuum

I realised that I was comparing the situation with others involving people with dementia in which there was a general quiet with pockets of activity, conversation or engagement. I’m not implying that this is inevitable but I have experienced it. In contrast, The Wellspring, with a general buzz, conversations and interactions were very apparent. When taking the time, however, it was easy to find points of calm, someone contently eating by themselves or more subdued but intent interactions. This made me more at ease.

While becoming part of a conversation between Phil and a guest I was able to connect with him, finding parts of me that related to parts of him. You could call it empathy but it wasn’t a conscious aspiration at the time. It just felt like one human being relating to another. The value of allowing yourself to just ‘be’ in an environment can be underrated.

The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Happy Mothers Day

Shakespeare Cut-up poem printed onto Concertina Book, Anon, March 2015

The Homeless Library, The Wellspring, March 2015

One of the themes that comes up time and time again in conversations with the men and women at the Wellspring Stockport is the life-long effects of Dysfunctional families and loss on their lives. I have spoken to people who lost parents as children, (one who held their dying dad in his arms) the devastation child abuse can reap for a lifetime, parents with substance abuse, many who have been in the care system the list goes on and unfortunately the pain goes on to. The woman who wrote her thoughts in one of our new handmade books summed up the battle with her past and hopes for the future: 'held down by responsibility. Dysfunctional families. Unencumbered (thats the right direction)' 

Have a Happy Mothers Day, if you can give your mum a hug.

Detail of Concertina Book, The Wellspring, Stockport, March 2015

Friday, 13 March 2015

Twinkle, Twinkle

Meaning, or the lack of it, is crucial to all of us. How do you find a shape and value to your life if you can't understand it? Our conversations with homeless people at The Wellspring drop-in centre are often about this need. Ernie, interviewed below, has had many hard knocks, but still twinkles with good natured friendliness. He'd probably tell you that his good cheer comes from Jesus. His religious belief is clearly his most prized possession, as it is for several people we've met. 

Below is the full interview with Ernie - we are currently posting blogs as an ongoing notebook of the source material that will feature in the handmade books of The Homeless Library. As with all these interviews, the opinions contained in it are those of the interviewee alone, and are transcribed here as told to us, having been read back to the interviewee and approved by them.

folded book, with Ernie's words re-written

Ernie Smith:

What makes homelessness? It's not just self-inflicted, it's circumstances. Very easy to get into difficult circumstances. You know it's wrong and yet it's like an addiction. Say, you don't work and you get benefits, well it grows on you. Particularly for girls, they think: I can have a house if I have a baby. A slippery slope. The only way to get back up it is find good friends and get Jesus into your life.

That all leads us to Creation. We couldn't live without the sun, it brings heat and warmth and evaporation from the sea to feed the clouds. All the food - everything - flowers, wheat, fruit, is from seed. And it's all grown with the help of the Lord. It's not evolution, it's Creation. He looks after us like he looks after the Birds and Bees, if you get my drift.

This organisation is run by a Catholic Church, with public funding. (Editor's note: The Wellspring is now an independent organisation.) The staff, Jonathan, Alison and Alexandra are so understanding. If people are aggressive they don't throw them out they can them. You've just seen it yourself a moment ago, with foul language and fists flying about - and the staff calmed it down. You learn here. For instance, on Sunday we've got Get Active and we learn how to act. Stops you being bored, you feel not disadvantaged.

Now I'm going to spoil the mood. How can politicians like Malcolm Rifkind, who say they can't live on £60000, say to us we should live on less than £1000? Politicians are on a fortune, but they don't come to our level. We've never known that degree of money but we come to acceptance. We accept the little we have, but we'd like a bit more, please. Never mind the government, if it wasn't for places like this, people would starve to death in this country. And I'd be one of them.

David Cameron doesn't know me from Joe Soap and when you aren't in someone's mind you are easily forgotten. A lot of people suffer in this country because of homelessness. Our own people are suffering. They want a job, they want to earn what they eat. I've gone a full day without food and I bet Malcolm Rifkind never has. I've sucked my finger to get a little saliva in my mouth at least.

You say you don't believe in God, well I can't believe in Resurrection, I believe in Jesus Christ through the historical documentation. I believe in what I can see before me. But there is an exception. I also believe in the human spirit that is implanted within our bodies. Everybody knows inside themselves what's right and wrong - and if you obey that voice, you get comfort, peace and joy.

I used to be a member of the Salvation Army, in Oldham. I'll tell you how I came to join. I'd never played a musical instrument, but I had a yearning to. I heard a man called Eddie Calvert playing the golden trumpet. He played Ho Mein Papa. I heard that and I went to get a book on trumpet playing by Humphrey Lyttleton out of the library. He said: "My advice is to go to the Salvation Army. They have instruments and musicians and it'll be practically free."

I went to the Salvation Army and the man I spoke to couldn't believe his ears. I can still hear his voice now: "The Trumpet!   This isn't a dance band! This isn't a brass band, it's silver!" Then he asked me "What about a cornet?" I blew it til I were blue in the face. "No? Then we'll try you on a tenor horn." Well, I were like John Peel, hunting. They shut me in a room with my one note and soon I could play a few more. Within six months I could play God Save the Queen, King Wenceslas and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I played Twinkle Twinkle to the whole congregation. That was my biggest achievement in life! Then the Salvation Army closed in Oldham.

When I were a kiddie we used to sing this rhyme about them:
"The Salvation Army sell fish
Don't buy it, don't buy it
It stinks when they fry it..."

But they're a wonderful organisation, the Salvation Army. They are teetotal and they've helped me not abuse alcohol. They're a uniformed organisation and they can be strict. They believe in God and they don't smoke or drink. Keep you on the straight and narrow, that's what they've done for me and many others like me.

There's not so many homeless people today because they don't need to be. Those that are homeless, sleeping rough, it's their way of life and they love it. Nowadays, if you go to an organisation like the police and say can you lead me to a hostel they'll do it, or take you to a benefit office. Then you're beginning again, learning. Eventually it teaches how to earn your keep instead of sponging.

Drinking, it's in the blood. It needs a religious person to say the answer is not in a bottle or a beer tin, it's within Jesus Christ. It's letting Jesus into your life, it'll bring comfort - and He will protect you.

Interviewed by Phil, Feb 2015 at The Wellspring. The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The crack (part 2)


In this second part of our interview for the project 'The Homeless Library' The crack, the interviewee describes his end-of-days as a drug dealer and the long, long time spent rebuilding life after the fall. Substances are often around the homeless life and this is a counting of the cost.

Please note, this interview contains references to sex, violence, substance abuse.


I was a junkie, a jack-the-lad drug dealer. I had everything and I blew it all for a woman. Actually, I'll be honest, I blew it for crack cocaine. That's how I got me head cut up. (Shows scars.) Mind you, the guy who did it to me was dead 6 months later, natural causes. Cancer of the testicles. Cut me to ribbons and he died of a big bollock. Couldn't have happened to a nicer man, swing low sweet chariot. He would've cut a baby in half. On this night, he had a sword in his hand. Like King Solomon, but stupid. It was blood up the wall, like a butcher shop. My blood. A slaughterhouse, is what the police said.

If something goes that badly wrong you turn to your mates and that's it. Can't turn to the law cos if you turn to the law you're a midnight.

'What did I learn? Anon, mono print on vintage book. March 2015

I was doing well. The police raided me and they kept missing where I kept the drugs. The most they got on me was for a bit of personal. Never had me and the drugs in the same place, I always kept those two things separate and they couldn't figure it out. But after the fourth raid I walked away from it.

The geezer who picked up my job, they rumbled him after two days. Proper hoisted him. He sat in a bus stop selling heroin for three solid hours. That's the laziest effort I ever heard of. One of the crummiest attempts at being a criminal. No pride in the job, personally I blame the parents.

When I was dealing I earned £500 a day, but I woke up each morning in debt. Crack, spend everything you've got on it. Once my boss left me with a big chunk and when he came back the next day I'd had it all. He said, "There was £3000-worth of crack there!" I said, "What can I say? It's just the way it is."

When it all fell apart I took this woman for a dirty weekend in Blackpool, bad idea. She was up for it, but she was my landlord's girlfriend. He was more angry with her than me. He said, "After all, I'm fucking her not you." On the same weekend he got arrested with my drugs on him. It was destiny.

When I left the life, what did I walk away into? I walked away into nothing. Got put into a hostel and I quit. Decided I'd had enough. Five years I was in the hostel, Project 34. I got on with the male staff, but I drove the female member of staff mad. She'll always remember me, and my little niggles. Women think they're the more intelligent sex, but they're easy to wind up, aren't they? She was most anxious I got put in a flat, before she got put in a cell. I'm in a flat now, though I nearly lost it in a minor dispute over electricity.

That's the story of how I got here.

(Interview with Phil at The Wellspring, Feb 2015)

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The crack (part 1)

Part 1

The Homeless Library project brings together many voices. This is a complex history, told by people who are often searching for meaning in it themselves. This isn't a history of large events or famous faces, but it does contain its triumphs and disasters, humour and horror. The following interview has a good dose of all those things.


I was put in care at 5 years old. That's where it all starts. First time I was beaten up I was in a care home and I was beaten up by a policeman. Proper beaten. I was cheeking him, wasn't even one of my best lines, he wasn't worth it. I'd gone walkabout and he asked me where I'd been. I said: "D'you know Blackpool?" He said, "Yes." I said, "It wasn't there." Then he beat me. Later it all went official and cos of that incident they stopped police being left alone with kids in care homes in the North West. Then it became a national rule, because of me and that policeman. So maybe I have done some good after all. He still got away with it though. Inspector said if you leave it in my capable hands...

There's a lot of wisdom in here (The Wellspring) but an awful lot of stupidity. It outweighs wisdom 2 to 1, in favour of stupidity. And that's just the staff. People here have very deep experiences, we have experienced how to fail time and time again.

I'm not having a good week, found out I've got hepatitis, it ain't good. The ironic bit is I copped it off a girl, not doing drugs. Should've stayed on the smack. I was careful doing the drugs, always use your own pins, filter and spoon. The thing is, when you get off the drugs you think you're past the most dangerous part of your life. You feel immortal, cos you've been through it all. The relief! It was the first time I'd been with a woman in a couple of years; when you're on the drugs you aren't that interested. More interested where your next tenner is coming from.

Lives are complicated, add drugs and they get more complicated. Add homelessness and they're even more complicated. Nowhere to get clothes, nowhere to wash. Nowhere to be. That's the most important one of all. Just to be. Just there. If you're homeless, you're sitting on a bench, piss-wet through, waiting for what's going to happen next. The removal of money doesn't make life easier it makes it harder. That's what this place does, it is a place to be. No airs or graces, they let us all in, all of us half-wits.

Judge not for ye shall be judged. I remember that from school. But we all judge, it's human nature. Homelessness puts you wrong. Hard to get back into a routine, cos there isn't one. I've known people get so used to it they'll turn down a hostel. Rather be on the streets, cos people are used to the streets. Or the hostel is a shit-hole.

I knew a guy, partially-sighted, partially-deaf. He had a white stick and everything, classed as vulnerable. Offered to loan the white stick to me, cos it's useful for hitchhiking, but I turned it down, maybe I should've used it cos nobody expects a blind man to pull one on them, they think they're going to have him. They "homed" him in a place that had no electricity. Dumped him there in the dark, cos they were following the letter of the law, but the law didn't say how bad the "homing" could be. They had to home him, so they dumped him. He was there nine days.

This (The Wellspring) is a humorous place, hanging around here is worth it just to watch people trying to get out of trouble. Him for instance, he's just come in and he owes everyone money, how's he going to get out of that one? I like causing trouble, if there's someone in the back of it, it'll be me. Mischief, not proper trouble. Too right, it will be me.

I'll tell you the way it is mate, most in here are Care in the Community, got mental problems. Tell you how you spot them: they're not concerned about their giro cos they're on the sick. They're closing down the hospitals, they did it awhile ago, the special units, the space for mentally ill people. Got nowhere to go you gotta get a tent ain't you? Then, three quarters in here are on drugs and they'd spend it on drugs not rent if they were given the money. There's a new government initiative. They want to give us the rent money to handle ourselves but we don't want that, it'll all go on drugs. It's gonna be a massacre. You know who it's gonna cost? - you poor people who pay tax. He (points to friend) would be straight off to Amsterdam and I'd be straight after him. We don't want to get that money, but they're going to do it anyway and it'll go wrong and then they'll blame us yet again.

(Interview with Phil at The Wellspring, Feb 2015)

Monday, 9 March 2015

The Wellspring

'I'd like to tell my story' Anon, mono print March 2015

The Wellspring

Step inside a high beamed wooden room. You'd think it was a Swiss chalet, except this has been dropped in the middle of Stockport. Bright and spacious and clean. Most of the floorspace is filled with tables and chairs, there's a reception desk to one side as you enter and at the back a serving counter for food. The smell is appetising and the light in this place feels optimistic..

Come 10 o'clock in the morning, people will start to file in through the glass double doors. It is an amazing variety of people who come through these doors. In fact, I'd guess this entrance has welcomed wider human experience than almost any other doorway in the town of Stockport. It is a homeless centre and every day there will be people here who are on the very edge of everything: the edge of acceptable, the edge of what they can stand, the edge of being alive. This is time lived in  moments, where the sharp prompt of pain and fear is often present. There is wariness, trust has to be earned. We've been coming to The Wellspring for three weeks now and our faces are starting to become familiar.

But trust is still to be earned. (Even in writing this I wonder, am I overstepping the mark somehow.)

We are here to make a history of homelessness, something that has never been done before in the UK. It is a history that has been ignored, so the people who tell it are therefore free to invent their own way of expressing it. We are bringing our usual offerings of conversation, poetry and art. We are hoping that these small tools can help to make a big story, a history.

Two comments. First, Ernie Smith: "I'm not an easy conversationalist. Some people here I don't have anything to say to. Aggression and shouting, I just put my head down. But I felt you (arthur+martha) have listened to me, and I'm amazed."

Speaking about the art-making, Christine explained:  "This is the first time I've done any drawing for 11 years. I feel relaxed, quiet, I loved the drawing today. I gave it up years ago when I was bringing up the children and looking after the family. I haven't done anything for myself for so long."

Because it is a history that must try to include many complex experiences, we have to find a shape that fits all. Because the history of itinerant people - of so-called outcasts, outsiders and those who do not fit goes back thousands of years, we must try to honour the past as well as the present.

Wish us luck.

'Life Changes' Anon, Mono print, March 2015

(The Wellspring provides services to Homeless and disadvantaged people 365 days a year. Not everyone who attends The Wellspring is homeless, but 95% of the client group are people who would be at risk of becoming homeless. The Wellspring feels very strongly that engaging with the people who are at risk of homelessness is the only way to reduce homelessness in the future. Prevention is so much better than cure.)

The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Friday, 6 March 2015

In one word, freedom

'The Gypsy Life',  Anon. Mixed media March 2015

The gypsy life? In one word, freedom

Phil writes:

We're gathering interviews, reminiscence, printings, drawings and handmade books,  for our project The Homeless Library, a collaboration with homeless people and older people in Greater Manchester. For the next couple of months we'll be based at The Wellspring, a homeless drop-in situated in Stockport and many of these blogs will be raw notes.

People have described their experiences of homelessness to us,  and also reflected on interviews and old photos, which document other lives lived on-the-move. A couple of weeks ago we brought in photos of  Traveller/Gypsy/Romany communities (so much meaning is held in a name, in a word). Some of the pictures were taken around 100 years ago, but the reactions to them were strong. Below is a small selection. People who live in ways that are different to us will attract our judgement, but that judgement is also a comment on ourselves. All of the interviewees here are all too well aware of this - and go on to talk about their own position in society.

Gary Strickland:

I've lived on a Traveller site, yes. Been all over the country doing UPVC windows. At that time I was wanted by the police, made myself scarce. 30 pounds cash a day and you got fed. It was alright in summer, but when it's raining, get covered in mud. In the winter, freezing in a caravan. Work we were doing, we were like cowboys. In a way I was welcome, but they were a bit paranoid. Could be dead paranoid with their wives, over-protective and that. It's not for me that life, you can't get a shower and I try to keep myself clean. It's another stereotype, cos I'm homeless people think I should be a tramp. I keep myself clean.

Try to get on with it, try to get housing. People have been helpful to me. This (The Wellspring) it's a God centre. I believe in God and that. Homelessness, it's just a vicious circle. Circles can be broken. Am I a survivor? Yeah, definitely. I like being on the move, this life changes every minute - I figured that out for myself. Plan day by day, take each as it comes.

'Gypsy Caravan' anon. Monoprint on vintage book. Feb 2015


Those look like proper old gypsy caravans, Romany. I've known Irish Travellers. Old caravans, ornate. Write that word! Ornate. I've mostly known women - two or three women - from that community and they've left, left what I consider a cult. You're born into it. They were kicked out. One left because her dad had broken some of the rules and they have guilt by family. The sins of the father are passed down.

All women, the Travellers I knew. Tough but vulnerable, a contradiction. Absolute sweethearts these women I met. Met them around this place (The Wellspring) and out on the benches having a drink with a group of people.

Gypsies are Romany. There's English Gypsies, Irish travellers. Roma people come from Romania which is where the word comes from too. Roma.

Dave Kelly:

An independent lifestyle. Don't seem to see the caravans now. Difficult to see how they could fit into modern society, it's so different from the house dwellers. They're always going to be a set apart and a minority. The gypsy communities must be very close, for their own security.

This old gypsy way, is it bygone, a thing of the past? Are they mostly builders now? On benefits? The old-style horses to pull them along, now superseded by vehicles. They used to have a big horse trade gathering in Yorkshire.

Me, I'm not keen on modern housing, there's too much outside interference. Housing should be just for living in, but it's something else now. Something that isn't talked about. There's a good reason for that, cos it's a racket. I'm talking about tenanted property. It's not yours and it's more and more reinforced that it's not yours by regulation. It's all about establishing a status quo where the tenant is at the lowest level. Tenants have no protection, no representation in Parliament. I've experienced it myself, that's my observation.

It's hard for ordinary people to get into politics and express their views. That's why they get a bad deal. Something's happened to get people here (in The Wellspring) hasn't it?

All participants interviewed by Phil at The Wellspring, Stockport Feb 2015. The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Neil's Story

There are just as many ways of telling a story as there are ways of living a life. Talking to Neil Crossland at The Wellspring, we realised that he was already hatching a form for telling his own tale. Here is the beginning of Neil's Story...

It always starts the same way.

One minute he is huddled on the floor in a cold cathedral doorway wrapped tightly in his dark blue sleeping bag, not so much to protect him against the cold - no, cold had never really been a problem for him - it was more a protective bubble against a world he had no love for and which had no love for him. The next, he is soaring through the sky on large, strong, translucent wings, each beat like a crack of thunder matching his own heartbeat. It always seems so real, flying like a rocket through the familiar territory of Stockport his hometown and straight through Manchester to territories unknown. It always ends the same way to, flying back over Stockport, over the cathedral where he has spent so many nights hidden away, wings starting to shrink, turning back into his stick thin arms, then he falls...

He woke with a start, the moonlight shining through the arches of St Mary's church, "Back to the real world," he thought to himself. The wind was howling down the streets of Market Place; he remembered coming here with his father when he was younger, each stall holding a myriad of wonders.

Now he has different memories of the place. Being homeless and sleeping rough in the streets that once made him happy to visit has taken its toll on him. Now all he looks for is a place to keep dry every night and hopes not to be hassled by the youths and drunks that plague the streets after the sun has fallen.

One recent night, waking suddenly from another dream, he thought he noticed someone watching him but quick as a blink they were gone. What unsettled him most about it, in the quick glance he had, was the person's features: long silver hair that seemed to shimmer like glitter in the moonlight, sharp piercing eyes the colour of fresh-grown leaves after winter has lost its bite and. . . no, surely not, pointed ears?

lost glasses, mono print on vintage book

Monday, 2 March 2015

Wagging it

We are gathering words for our project The Homeless Library, slowly and carefully. Soon, these words will be put into handmade books, but they also have another life, here on our blog. These are histories of people who are often unheard, or misunderstood, or simply ignored.We hope that by bringing together many such stories - and linking them with the past - we will do justice to many people's experience. 

Andy Morrison:

I'm from Hyde, Ashton area, Stalybridge. I was at boarding school from 9 years old upwards, til I was 15. Thing I was into was playing sports. I was a bit of a tearaway when I was young, got sent to the boarding school to teach me a lesson. Spent a couple of months at the school, then went back home two weeks, then back at school. Got kicked out of there and all. Got kicked out of two boarding schools. When I first went, 9 years old, I got bullied. When you get older you do back the same things that got done to you, but the school couldn't handle it.

school lines

One Christmas they had us killing turkeys. We were killing them, plucking them and gutting them, then they sold them, to the local village. I was 13 years old, place was like an abattoir. You pull the neck til it breaks, or hit it over the head with the end of a broom. Some people pulled too hard and the head came off and the bird's still flapping. Grim. The teachers would beat us up. Later when I was 22 the social services contacted me to see if I wanted to make a complaint about the school. I didn't, it was just the sort of thing they did in them days.

I got kicked out there and kicked out of another school. Just the once I had to go back there, sit in a locked room and do me exams. Luckily I passed. Then I got a job as apprentice mechanic, cos me dad did it. Following father's footsteps. Did it 12 months, got me City and Guild, but there was no job at the end in the company. They were running it as a government scheme. Then I started getting in trouble, nicked a motorbike.

Never used to go to school when I was little. Wagged it all the time up til 8 years old. The police would pick me up and bring me back to mum and dad's late at night. I'd just up and go. That's when they put me in boarding school. What did I learn? I just learned how to be tough. Look at me now, homeless, still in trouble.

I just get by, I know what to do. If something happens I know what to do. Rely on myself, there's no one else - and places like this (The Wellspring). If I was going to give advice to someone else who's homeless, I'd say there's housing options even when you think there's nothing, places like this help you with food, and housing advice. And you learn. I'm 48, know what I mean? It's not the first time I've been on the street. When I was first homeless didn't know. Thought I was on me own. But you're not.

I don't mind helping someone if they don't take the piss. I used to share a tent with a guy, Alan. When we first met, both knew the other was homeless straight away, without saying anything. I signed on, helped him out, with my money. He showed me The Wellspring; we used to walk it here from Hyde. We'd get to Stockport and kill a few hours, then onto here. Then back home to the tent. Used to buy him a breakfast. Then one day he disappeared, never saw him again. People go, don't they?

Interview with Andy Morrison, conducted by Phil at The Wellspring in Stockport, Feb 2015. The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.