Friday, 23 October 2015

Queueing for soup. Part 2

The quality of a civilisation is measured by the quality of its mercy. Giving food, giving alms, helping the sick, are traditions that go back to ancient societies. A modern variation is the soup kitchen...
Detail from artist box/book collaboration for The Homeless Library

One of the older people to come into The Wellspring during our Tuesday Homeless Library session is Ernie. His memory goes back to the 1940s, a short step from the economic depression of the 1930s and George Orwell's down-and-out pilgrimage. Ernie uses The Wellspring as a place of support and kindness. For him, this is more than a meal ticket, it is also a place where he gets a little refuge from the sharp edges of life. But he well remembers the food queues in North Manchester - what follows is his almost-photographic recollection of the soup kitchen he witnessed as a child:

"I've seen the Salvation Army giving cups of soup outside a hut in a place called Royton. It was 1947, a terrible cold winter. The Salvation Army captain was Jackie Boyes. He organised it for the underprivileged of Royton, where I lived. It was a wooden, rickety-rockety table. Paper cups and plates and an aluminium canister for the soup, they'd ladle it out. Sometimes they'd do fish - the local kids singing, "Don't buy it don't buy it it stinks when they fry it!" - kiddies shouting that and he'd chase them off. He chased me too.

"A childhood memory: a table, a ladle and Mr Boyes to make sure you only had one cupful. Some of the ladies there were in shawls and clogs. I wore clogs meself, with irons. 1947 it were a bad winter the snow drifted to the roofs of the houses. Couldn't get out of your front door some days. It was just after the war, we'd play in the scrapped tanks at Pickfords scrapyard. They'd saw the scrap up for us to sledge with.

"Captain Boyce would come out of the Salvation Army Hall on Saturday at 5 PM and put out the table - on the dot - and you could get some soup. Must have been 20 to 30 people there on the Saturday night. A lot of them had Rickets, bow-legged and walking with a walking stick. A rolling gait, very painful; they'd be only 50 or 60 years old, they aged much quicker then. They had that look that they couldn't believe it, couldn't believe what was happening to them and couldn't believe people were so good. They were honest people, they didn't lock their doors. I never thought they were down-and-outs, they were just like me and you. They would queue orderly, they weren't pushing and shoving. They behaved in those days, in an orderly queue."                                    
Ernie and Phil working on collaborative poem 'Our Daily Bread', for the Homeless Library
A question for another time: what is the price of a free lunch?

(Phil interviewed Ernie at The Wellspring for the project The Homeless Library, which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. For more information about Rickets in the UK today, follow the link above to NHS Choices.)

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Queuing for soup. Part 1

Queuing for soup, pt 1

The quality of a civilisation is measured by the quality of its mercy. Giving food, giving alms, helping the sick, are traditions that go back to ancient societies. A modern variation is the soup kitchen...

There is a queue of people waiting for food, fifty or so. A man in his 70s with a stoop and a carrier bag, wearing an old-time wind-cheater jacket. A young man in a hoodie which covers his face, he peeps out to talk to his pal. A man with saliva foam round his mouth, often a telltale of mental health medication. Most of the queue are middle-aged men, most wearing outdoor clothes, most have weathered faces.

 Phil writes:

I'm at The Wellspring, a homeless centre that offers advice, free clothing, medical support, a social space and other facilities including free food. In this last offering, it is the ancestor of the soup kitchens of the 19th and 20th centuries. In fact Peter, who is one of the founders of The Wellspring, had a grandmother who ran a soup kitchen, back in the 1930s.

The room fills with the smell of cooking. It is a big bright place, with clean pine beams and lime walls. A line of windows in the high ceiling floods us with light, church-like. I'm writing this while waiting for the queue to subside so that I can eat too. By sheer coincidence, while I'm writing about Peter, he sits down opposite me. I ask him about that first soup kitchen.

Wanting to get on an even keel, detail of artist book/box

"In the 1930s during the recession, my grandfather, Revd. Watson was the vicar of St Elizabeth's in Reddish, a cotton town. Sir Henry Houldsworth, who owned several mills, wanted to give his support to the many unemployed people in the area. As patron of the church, he asked my granny, with the help of the women of the parish, to start a soup kitchen. It proved so popular that people came from all over Lancashire. People were coming from all over and sleeping in doorways. After complaints about the number of vagrants sleeping rough in the area, the police asked her to shut the kitchen down."

I then asked Peter why he started working with homeless people, so many years later.

"I was made redundant when I was younger, married, with two young children. I lost my company car and was in the red. I wanted to become an agent selling capital equipment to industry. The bank manager thought the scheme viable and through the long gestation period, allowed me to run up a considerable overdraft. After thirteen months, I received my first big order. This enabled me to pay off the overdraft and to continue with the business.

"The crux of the matter is that during the crucial 13-month period, kind people would hang a loaf of bread on the door knob. Perhaps a weekend joint. £200 at Christmas time. When I heard in 1991 that the church was trying to start The Wellspring. I thought, this is my chance to pay back the kindness my family received - and I have been involved ever since."

(Phil interviewed Peter Hodskinson at The Wellspring, in Stockport for The Homeless Library project, a history of homelessness which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.)

Friday, 16 October 2015

Get on an even keel

My guess is that most people who enjoy a glass of wine or beer have found themselves having a drink to relax, un-wind, forget their troubles, I've had conversations with friends who like me are aware that at times we are drinking a bit to regularly a glass or two over the recommended amounts... Just how easy is it for that to become a problem? What triggers heavy drinking? a death, a family break-up, bullying, depression, loss of a job, loss of your home? things that can happen to any of us. In the following account for our project 'The Homeless Library' one man shares just how easy life can turn around- for the worse and thankfully in this case plenty of hope for the future.

Soup Kitchen artist book/box, collaboration Lois Blackburn and The Wellspring for The Homeless Library

" this new manager, we got on well at first- but think she wanted to make a name for herself, wanted to come across a bit tougher. She started giving me warnings, then written warnings- all my life I had had a clean slate, then my final warning, I was thinking I wont get another job with all these warnings- she was getting me in trouble and the deputy manager was backing her up. She was constantly watching me- I had a panic attack and handed my notice in. I thought I’d take my chances, I didn’t want to claim benefits, I wanted a rest. Then the drinking kicked in.

Before it was just social drinking, I’d have a couple then it would turn into a drinking session. Then instead of going out with my mates I’d be on my own with a couple of cans thinking it would take the edge off. Then it escolated to stronger cans, and more of them- it never effected my work. Then when I lost my job I was drinking in the morning, I’d watch a bit of telly, got bored and had the urge to have a drink. I stopped opening my mail, if I had a drink it blocked out not opening the mail. It got to the stage when I was scared to look at the bank account, scared of going to the cash machine. Then I got the crazy idea that if I locked myself in my room, then nobody would come round.

I look back at it as a bad phase. In my mind, stops me from drinking when I think about how bad it was. I have the occasional lapse, but dry now. I cut down and stopped. 4 months ago I would have been sat watching telly drinking. I have managed to catch up with bills- this place is a Godsend, (The Wellspring, Stockport) when you're drinking you just want to spend all your money on the beer, you don’t eat. START helped, a doctor in Stepping Hill put me onto START.   My keyworker from Cirtek House put me to a drama group and volunteering at Woodbank Park, growing veg. ‘Re-G.R.O.W’ There you can sit down all afternoon if you want and talk to other people who have been in my situation and drink tea.

Tonight I will be breatholised- that’s at Re-Grow, and the Stay Sober group, you get breatholised there to, and if you fail you get asked to leave- and go back to be re-habilitated. Luckly I’ve not done that.

My key worker took all my bills, sorted them out for me. I cant describe the pressure it took off. I had a phobia about the bills, thought they’d come and take the furniture away. It took the block away when the bills were sorted, the beer was hiding.

'Wanting to get on an even keel', detail of Soup Kitchen artist book/box. Oct 2015

I get about £70 a week, when I’ve sorted out the bills theres no money to eat and I wanted to get on an even keel. When I first came here (the Wellspring) a ham sandwhich was heavon. Coming here is somewhere to socialise and sometimes they put a curry on and I love Indian food. Before coming here I had an old fashioned view of the place, but people are very respectful, friendly.

I came off the rails a bit, but now I have a different social life. I meet new people, I’m not in the rut I was at work. Next I want to get out volunteering…

The Homeless Library project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Hope 1980

Boxbook, Lois Blackburn and The Wellspring, collaboration for the project 'The Homeless Library.'

19 people from The Wellspring Stockport, contributed to our most recent artist book for the project 'The Homeless Library'. We asked 4 seemingly straightforward questions, questions that allowed lots of space for interpretation.

1. Where and when were you born?
2. Something you have been given?
3. Something that has been taken away from you?
4. A wish or plan for the future?

The Homeless Library is about creating a history of homelessness- so each answer then had a date added and was then added to a timeline strung along the walls of the Wellspring.  Our sessions at the Wellspring are drop-ins- there is no set group, this means we aim to find new ways to encourage people to join in, to create a safe space to do creative work. The method of literally spreading out the answers around the room, enabled people to observe at a distance at first, encouraged curiosity and a talking point. As there was no reference to the question on most of the answers it meant an answer could be read in different ways- Many were about deaths and births, families and words of wisdom. Some of the most moving were single words; 'FREEDOM 1978, some obscure 'DOG 1982', some hopeful, 'taken (but not forever) LIFE 2004  and then wishes for the future: "To get off drugs by at least 2016' and 'have my own home instead of my tent 2016'.

Over the years during various arthur+martha projects we have discovered that some of the shortest and seemingly simplest questions can start of the most revealing answers- What constantly surprises me is how quickly people can answer them- (I can have a habit of over thinking...) The trick seems to be to allow space and a bit of ambiguity, space in the interpretation of the question and space to answer with one word if you choose or a whole hour if needed. 

I'll leave today with the single word written on one page, we cant know if it was something given or something taken away...  'Hope 1980'.

The Homeless Library project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

I’ve been lost everywhere

The origins of Community Care- the closure of the Victorian asylums in the 80s and 90s I have read about and heard about over the years- infact I worked at Brookwood Mental Hospital for a summer as a student- a very large institution complete with dairy farm, ballroom and its own fire brigade! however yesterday for the Homeless Library Project,  I had the privilege to speak with someone who had spent the majority of his life in these institutions- then it seems got abandoned in the 'community'. He told his remarkable, moving story with a smile on his face. It feels to me like a plot for a film.

'page from 'box book' for the Homeless Library.

I was brought up in hospital. Don’t know my real name or where I was born. The only thing I remember about childhood was living in a big hall with lots of boys- had been bombed out during the 2nd World War.

In hospital they doped you up to keep you calm, so they had less work, no problems for the staff- sat rocking in a chair watching tv. They moved us around, all over the country in different hospitals till they closed them all down, that’s when I ended up on the streets. I had electric shock treatment, I had been screaming all night, they wanted to get rid of the memories of childhood, but they didn’t take a bit of the memory, they took it all (and in a good cause) Then they said we’ve given you to much, it’s going to have ruined your short term memory. And with all the moving around you didn’t know where you came from. Everything I know it’s from an adult. It don’t bother me. I don’t mind being on my own.

I wanted a passport, to live in a warm country with my pension, can’t read or write that makes it difficult and don’t know where I was born. I went to registrar in Stockport, she said ‘personally I don’t think you’re from here’. I hadn’t a birth certificate- no idea who I am, but usually happy- no sense to be anything else. I’ve been lost everywhere, all over the country.

When I was thrown out of hospital, they told me a little rhyme to help me remember my name and date of birth. A day centre found me somewhere to live, something to eat, it was a probation centre for young people, I was the only old person there, they sorted out my pension, I didn’t even know I was old. Everyone was very friendly, I was like a mascot. Dinner was a pound- think mine was free. On the streets in Brighton I would go into a cafĂ© and ask if they needed a washer- upper. I’d do casual work for food- I never drank or smoked, didn’t need money for anything but food. I slept under Brighton Pier where they kept the deckchairs, me and the other homeless slept there. The soup vans would come around at 2 in the morning, they didn’t have bowls but metal cups, the same soup all the time, it weren’t thick a clear soup. and they said I shouldn’t be there, that it wasn’t safe for me- I wasn’t taking drugs or drinking. They got me one room.

When I got my pension and disability allowance I said ‘what do I need the money for?’ The Citizens Advice used to look after my books so I didn’t loose them, would come down with me to get my pension, otherwise I’d get lost. It turned out that those lads on probation weren’t so friendly, they would follow me till I got my money, then they’d say ‘hey Jimmy, have you the money you owe us?’ and I’d stick my hand out with the money and they’d take the lot. I wasn’t bothered about money. The day centre in Crawley they watched and helped me out. Got me into a care home- that’s another story- that place closed down- I walked away with nothing.

I was told I could live in the Fun House in Blackpool, but when I got there it was closed. It was the middle of winter. Talk about Oliver Twist and his gang, got mixed up in that. Always quite happy.

(in the 1970s or 80s) Then I went to London, to Centrepoint and that’s when they found out I had Scurvy, I was told the first case in 100 years in this country! The doctors and students were so excited- I was famous, student doctors where coming from all over the country to look at the spots on my legs. Had the professionals in to photo my legs to put in a book with all the others- they may have helped someone.

I came to Manchester in the Millennium, came here- the Wellspring before this one was open. On the streets why didn’t people help me? When I was living in hedges, travelling on trains without tickets, I didn’t know if I was coming or going.

I can’t get out when its raining. I can never get warm. Being on the streets. I remember people coming round with soup, and I would go to the bins at the supermarkets, they’d leave food there. Once I nearly got dumped, I was sleeping in a bin and the men came to collect them, I was pulled up with the bin screaming- they said ‘you were lucky, I would have been chopped up into little pieces’.

Now as long as I’m warm and I’ve got a telly, I love films and nature programes. But I’m always cold and the flat in Heaton Mersey is brand new, got a new warden yesterday. It’s newly done up, but its cold and draftee. I would be here every day if I could get here, but get a bit of rain and I wont get out. Come here and get soup and take home a couple of sandwiches for my tea. I would have a steak if I could chew it. I have stuff in the cupboard, probably years out of date, but I cant be bothered to cook it.

Old age, I’ve forgotten everything that’s bad. I remember the good things.

Soup kitchen’s I sought them out where ever I’ve lived. I would go to the first church I could find then say I’m homeless and I don’t know where I am and 9 out of 10 times they’d find you a bed for the night and tell you where you could get food.

I lived in Banger, North Wales, and whilst I was there they were building the hospital, I was knocking about with the boys building it- they sneaked me into the pub they were staying in, the Harp on the High Street. I’ve been to Edinburgh, with the cannon going off at 1.00, and the statue of the collie dog.

When I had no money would go and buy fish and chips, but when I was new would go and find the soup kitchen. Rarely I paid. Pea soup my favourite, pea and ham would be nice. The modern soup kitchen is not the Food Banks, throughout history, they’ve made changes to suit the time.

box book for the project 'The Homeless Library.'

Monday, 5 October 2015

Schizophrenia and the Library

World Mental Health Day is on 10th October- just a reminder of few important facts: 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year. We probably all work or know with someone experiencing a mental health problem. 1 in 10 young people will experience a mental health problem. People with a mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence. 9 out of 10 people with mental health problems experience stigma and discrimination and nearly three in four young people fear the reactions of friends when they talk about their mental health problems. (for more information visit time to change.

badge/one page book, for the project The Homeless Library.

During our project 'The Homeless Library', we are meeting many people who talk about their mental health problems, some talk about their health conditions with embarrassment, many share their stories frankly. This week I met a man who described how it felt to live with schizophrenia- a mental illness that many of the public are particularly scared of-  and will affect 1 in every 100 of us.

"Give up me first flat up because of my mental health. I got diagnosed with schizophrenia about 8 years ago. Started when I was a kid, I had memories of it going back to when I was 9.  Me mum and dad used to say there was something wrong with me, they symptoms started at an early age- paranoia, anxiety, problems with stress and you’re taking on different characters in your mind. It was horrible till I got diagnosed- then I could get some help- an injection every month, flupentixol- never come off it now.

Used to say I could hear voices- when I was 9- but I was just lying on my pillow and hearing my own heart beat. But when your schizophrenic you think its so real- you believe you’re the character that you’ve took on. Mine? Like a military type of person, I used to think I had rank over other people. I spent 13 years in prison as well- a third of my life on different medicines, with no diagnosis till I got out of prison. They tried me on anti-depressants, all sorts, but I should have been on anti-psychotics.  It weren’t a pleasant time in prison, being un-well, un-diagnosed. The prison doctors don’t diagnose, they leave that to the outside world. It can be really frightening, because you believe its so real.

But I have a worker now, CPN, Community Psychiatric Nurse, she explains to me, tells me about schizophrenia and I can tell when my own mental health is deteriorating, I can get some help.

A chemical imbalance, hereditary as well, my brother has it to- and they say if you live around Schizophrenia long enough you can become one. My older brother found out a year or to later than me that he has it, I think my mother has but she has never had help, never admitted it.

They’re trying to get me into Stockport Supported Tenancy- housing with a support worker, they help you do your shopping, pay your bills. I come here (The Wellspring) to have a brew, chill out. I don’t feel ill when I have my medication. Some people I don’t tell them I’m Schizophrenic, feel it would have a negative effect on them'.

Thanks again to all the people who share their stories to the Homeless Library so generously and with such openness. The Homeless Library project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund

Friday, 2 October 2015

On the road? or life on the streets?

--> I met Billy at The Red Door, Bury for the project 'The Homeless Library'. Here he drawers the distinction between people 'on the streets' and people on the road:

Some people on the streets, some on the road. Different ways of surviving. I’m just re-building my empire. Not in one town, I’ve moved from 16 years old, up and down the country. Up here aged 16, then back down South aged 17, up and down hitch-hiking since.

Salvation Army Hostels, or use whatever you have around- some tarpaulin, a sheet of cardboard, you can get away with sleeping in your clothes in the summer. I’ve always worked, nothing industrious, all sorts. You could travel across Europe, you could go down to Kent now to pick the apples, missed the strawberries.

Travelling Showmen, that’s part of my family. I’ve got a trailer right now. Had a house in the past, but I’ve come back to the road. Re-building my empire.

Detail of artist book, (Salvation) made in collaboration for the project 'The Homeless Library.'

The Homeless Library project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund

Thursday, 1 October 2015

'Bleeps', a morse code man.

artist book, made by Lois Blackburn in collaboration with homeless people at The Wellspring, Stockport

A day of making artist books and interviews at The Wellspring, Stockport on Tuesday for the project 'The Homeless Library.' A collection of moving, enlightening interviews starting with Mark an ex Royal Signals, military man aged 52. More interviews to follow in future blogs:

I’ve been homeless for a while. Just found somewhere to stay due to the people here- (The Wellspring) my son used to work here- he’d say if you get really stuck go down there and have a shower and something to eat. I’d had a fire at my flat, it was un-liveable.
I spent a few nights in our lovely church doorway opposite, St Mary’s, the ministers not to bad as long as you don’t take the mic. Military training coming out- find shelter first.

I was in the Royal Signals- military communications, Morse code, typing, ‘Bleeps’ as your called. I’m from Adswood, born Bridgehouse, left school without any qualifications, didn’t bother. I knew what I was going to do when I left home, all my family were in the military, brothers, sister, dad. 17 and a half I went in. On standby for the Falklands, been in two years then. When I first joined up did a 6 months tour of Belfast.

(Soldiers attract each other, if there’s another solider in the room you find each other straight away- in here (The Wellspring) like my friend the ex-marine Combat Tony.)

I was asked to leave the military, a bit of a naughty boy, nothing drastic- if I’d been an officer I would have got away with it. 21 when I left. ‘Eh up, what’s he done this time?’ Always the troublesome one, the youngest, spoilt, used to get away with murder.

I worked on building sites when I came out, ‘giv us a job’ £20 cash in hand, got a job don’t take no skill- who wants a Morse code operator?

I grew up with drink. My dad was a drinker, he’s Irish, in the blood is Guiness, Potatoes and Jameson’s. As soon as I could sing, copied my dad, saw a glass, picked it up.  GP recons I’m alcoholic dependent cos I don’t steal to get alcohol. I don’t see the difference. 18 years old with money in my pocket, posted to Germany with strong beer…

The brain haemorrhage caused a stroke. My mate found me on the floor, I woke up in Hope with rows of staples in my head and a tube in my throat, I asked why have I a tube in my throat? I had a tracheotomy to help my breathing due to the operation- they were worried about my lungs. Worse thing is I can’t sing any more and not being big headed but I was a pretty good musician. The stroke paralysed my left hand side and I was left handed, nobody wants a teaching assistant who can’t write, so had to give that up- 8 years ago in my mid 40s. I was a dinner lady for a bit, used to get up in the morning and think ‘great I’m going to work.’

People in the hostel don’t understand me getting up early, ‘hands off cocks, on with socks’ the sergeant in the army used to wake us up with, up at stupid o clock.

artist book, made by Lois Blackburn in collaboration with homeless people at The Wellspring, Stockport

Thanks to Helen, who volunteered her time to join me yesterday at The Wellspring, lending her talents, energy and enthusiasm. The Homeless Library project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.