Wednesday, 29 April 2015


Our first session at The Booth Centre is a great blast of energy, noise, humour, confusion, fun and creativity. We've met so many people that my head is still spinning, as I write about it now.

Book folding. The Booth Centre, Manchester April 2015

Lois and I brought along the technique for folding and recycling to make artist books, a technique shown to us by Jeni McConnell at The Wellspring in Stockport. Some tables had been pulled together for us in the middle of the big dining area downstairs. It was a big echoey space filled with loud voices, laughter, the occasional squabble... and so our first move was to do something that relied not on conversation, but physical activity. The book folding was ideal for that.

'Sounds Stupid but..' Detail of folded book, The Booth Centre, Manchester 2015

Because we're already familiar with the book folding, it's getting easier to encourage people to take their folding a little further, to be a bit more daring. The results were loose and lovely, some with wild bends and folds like gentle book explosions, others quieter, more restrained. One book was even folded in on itself, as if everything it contained was a secret not to be shared.

Once the room quietened, we were ready for the next stage, which was a conversation-based writing exercise, one of our old favourites. We used sweets as prompts and discussed the associations that came with them, including childhood.

'Millions' (sweets) detail of Nicola's recycled book, The Booth Centre, April 2015

Out of this general chat, people's more personal stories began to emerge and we encouraged them to write, draw, make their mark on and in their folded books. It's a wonderful moment when people take an idea and make it their own - and that's what started to happen today. The books themselves became instruments of storytelling, inscribed with a multiplicity of words and images, hidden or open. They became the possessions of the people who made them. As I watched, I felt an amazing pride, for these brave, defiant gestures. Beautiful stories, ugly stories, but all in their own way a truth.

'Walking past Strangeways' detail of folded book. The Booth Centre, April 2015

Later as I type this, I'm in a cafe in Manchester. There's a tap on the window and I see R outside, I mouth "come in" and he comes over and sits with me awhile, in a break from selling the magazine. He's wearing a Big Issue bib and he's looking thinner than before, but it's good to see him, it's been months. We catch up with one another's news and I tell him about The Homeless Library. He was the first homeless person I ever discussed the project with, and he is keen to come along. I tell him that sessions are at The Booth Centre and R nods, "Yeah it's a good place, they get on and do things there."

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.

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