Monday, 22 May 2017

Solace from memory dark

‘When I was homeless, I used to put my head in a box- I was sleeping on a park bench, with cardboard to keep the draft from below and a box to keep the wind of my head. A box, a lovely form of protection - it works very well.”  Georgina.

Our third session at the Booth Centre, for the project Armour, and this time we were joined by artist/poet/performer Johnny Woodhams.

It’s a hard to explain in words sometimes, better to experience. As I have talked about in previous blogs, The Booth Centre does something remarkable, gives a safe space to some of the most vulnerable in society. And more than that, creates a tolerant, optimistic, creative working space that I feel privileged to work in.

‘Making art, takes your mind away from things.’ Garry

Shrine, part of the Armour project

With Johnny leading the session, the room took on a jovial atmosphere and somehow, at odds to the stereotypes of the pained artist, in stickered misery, the laughter and support allowed people to talk about some darkness, darkness that nobody would want to face. One man, living with his fiancée and son, recently dying in a house fire, created a shrine. A deeply personal brave piece, that effected all of the viewers.

‘Making art, helps an erratic mind, it stimulates, you’ve found the secrete to help homeless people.’ Dave.

Johnny had filled a two tables with an eclectic mix of objects, bones, wooden boxes, an old violin, books, tiny figures of people. Without pausing anon, (a veteran of the armed forces) choose a large piece of tree bark and started writing his train of thought onto it.

“The sway from your branches, to and fro, my home, not to share, my solace from memory dark, noice, panic, fear, tearing at my brain… you comfort me still, my house, my treehouse.'  

Quietly spoken, he explained to me later, that he had spent two years living in a tree house, only coming down to the ground in the dead of night.

Gary's artwork coincidentally picks up on another aspects of trees, their life cycle and the importance of trees/cardboard and wood in a homeless person's life. Taking us back in a circle to Georgina….

Lois Blackburn

Johnny Woodhams at the Booth Centre

I had no real idea what I was expecting to find and feel at the Booth Centre having never been there before. I was afraid that my concept for the session might be met with boredom or resentment...after all what do I know about what it's like to live on the street? What I found was the best 'family' of folk I've met in a long time....staff, volunteers and visitors alike...genuine, welcoming, comforting and inclusive....what an absolutely great place.

The outcomes of the session were raw and hugely emotive but the power of humour and strength were ever present throughout the day....I cannot wait to go back....I can see a hundred more things we could do! Writing is at it's best when it is honest  and rooted in truth...there are some bloody great writers here but often my favourite pieces are the most basic and simplistic because no language is is as the person speaks....

This session was utterly touching, emotive and beautiful even in its sadest lifted my spirits enormously and reminded me how important the power of art is even more so in these current climes....

Any one of us could easily fall into this position...the mixture of amazing characters was complete testament to this.....

Johnny Woodhams

Friday, 12 May 2017

Safety in Numbers

Armour, Thursday 11th May, The Booth Centre, Manchester

We've been having a sunny spell in Manchester this week, and it's spilling into peoples moods. That and good news. One of the men I told me about the relief of being housed in temporary accommodation, a roof over his head after 2 years rough sleeping. Another man proudly shared the number of weeks he had been off the class A's. 

Lawrence, Garry and I went for a walk from the Booth, circling Strangeways, massage parlours, the canal, car parks, busy roads, looking for rusty metal- for printing onto fabric and paper. In the sun, and with good company even the not-so-pretty side of Manchester looked ok. Then a reminder of how fragile life is on the streets, under a road bridge a shrine to a women who had died.

In the afternoon, everyone was engaged in conversation, poetry and making art. The staff, routine, the ethos of the Booth Centre generates an environment where people can feel safe and secure to try something new, to stretch themselves. Included in our afternoon group was one member who explained to me that they couldn't read or write, who went onto write a deep felt, moving poem and create an text/artwork- this was achieved simply with someone to sit with them to scribe their words.

safe in the house not safe in the street
street heavy
heavy in a safe building
building heavy caged in
caged in the box room
room careful who you’re in the room with
with been used
used scared on the street
street make sure their safe

Armour design

The Armour project is particularly targeting people who have served in the Armed Forces, people like Peter. 

safety in numbers link on link
link with friends hard and light
light from the chains and shields
shields protection and noisy
noisy shouts and clanging screams
screams of people pain and grief
grief of friends as fallen flow
flow of rivers of missing foe
foe that's banished to wide open spaces
spaces spaces it’s what we fought for
for spaces to share with friends
friends friends linked linked together hand

hands safe safe

Peter Scott
11th May 2017

Lawrence working on Armour design.

Throughout this at sometime emotionally raw day, somehow we are still smiling, there is room for laughter. The group is upbeat supportive, positive, kind. I feel privileged to be part of it.

Thanks to poet Roger Butts for the poetry inspiration, and everyone who shared their day with me.


Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Pop-up exhibition at the People's History Museum

Next Tuesday the 16th May, The Homeless Library is visiting The People's History Museum for a 'pop-up' exhibition, between 11am and 4pm. 

The People's History Museum is the national centre for the collection, conservation, interpretation and study of material relating to the history of working people in Britain.

Artists Jeni McConnell and Lois Blackburn, will be joined by some of the Homeless Librarian's from the Booth Centre, to share the artist books and poems, and to invite visitors to the Museum to have a go at making their own handmade book.

The Homeless Library is the first history of British homelessness, told through poems, interviews, artworks and handmade books. Supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund.

To download our free ebook, please visit
For more information about the project please visit Our website

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Invitation: Stitching the Wars

1pm - 3pm on 7th June 2017 at the newly refurbished Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, Terrace Road, Buxton, SK17 6DA tel 01629 533540. Refreshments provided.

Quilt, 'Fresh Air and Poverty' exhibited at National Trusts Lyme Park, by Gary Lomas

We are delighted to invite you to the opening of the Stitching the Wars exhibition, made in collaboration with older people living in Derbyshire and arts organsation arthur+martha.

Award winning project Stitching the Wars combines history, poetry and embroidery from older people living in rural Derbyshire. Artist Lois Blackburn from the arts organisation arthur+martha collaborated with older people to make community quilts embroidered with reminiscence.

This special celebration event will also share poems and interviews, and launch the accompanying book to the project

The project has been supported by Arts Council England, Foundation Derbyshire, Derbyshire County Council, Derbyshire Dales Council, Age UK, The Alzheimer's Society and The Farming Life Centre. We would like to thank the many, many people who have participated and whose work has made this a very special project.

For more information

documentary film  youtube
Sound recordings Soundcloud