The Lost Room at The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge.
By Mark Hewitt
The Lost Room – what we’re doing in there.
Nicola and myself have been commissioned to work with the service users of Porchlight, a charity supporting homeless people. Porchlight provide accommodation in hostels and activities and training to help homeless people find a way back to reintegrating into society.
The only times I’ve ever slept rough were after a night of teenage excess following the completion of my A-Levels, when I slept overnight in a telephone box in Southsea, and those irritating occasions when I’ve missed the last train and had to stay in a station overnight. Guildford Station springs to mind.
Sleeping rough because you have no choice must inevitably come hand-in-hand with a feeling of abandonment. Abandoned by family or by society. An absence of protection. The feeling of having hit rock bottom. What takes someone to that place of abandonment and possible hopelessness? Maybe drug or alcohol addiction. Collapse of a marriage or family situation. Disaffection from a step-parent. Loss of a job; debt spiralling out of control. Mental health problems. Or some sort of mixture of the above. Many of us can get surprisingly close to this sort of outcome in our own lives.
This is why organisations like Porchlight are so incredibly important. And after rescuing rough sleepers from the vulnerability of life on the streets, the task then is to bring back some hope and sense of purpose,
Which is the reason for the sort of project that myself and Nicola are involved with at The Beaney. We’re trying, as commissioned artists in The Lost Room, to find a way of helping individuals to recover some of the purpose and self esteem that they may have lost when they became homeless. But it’s not an easy or straightforward task. The service users at Porchlight may have little or no interest – on the surface – in the skills or activities we have to offer. Why should they? We may barely register on their radar.
So far, I’ve only met a few of the individuals with whom Porchlight works. Liam – a very creative individual – (he invented his own alphabet!) – who’s been working with Nicola, making things at The Beaney. I’ve also met a few people working on a guided tour of Canterbury from a homeless person’s perspective. Stu took me on the My Streets tour and I’ve since met a few of his colleagues working on the project. They’re keen to make it a success and even something that can bring in money and become a job. It’s a great initiative and nice idea. I’ve offered to help out a little with the script.
One thing I realised, when I was on the My Streets tour with Stu, is that Canterbury – as a major, iconic centre of Christianity since ancient times – is full of buildings and institutions for whom generosity towards the poor and homeless is a duty and credo. So it seems very appropriate that we FrancisKnight and The Beaney should be hosting this project in Canterbury.
During the week of 23 September I will be undertaking a short residency at the Porchlight hostels, offering creative writing sessions and recording interviews with service users. I’ll be staying for the week at Cathedral Gate, the lodge that once hosted visiting pilgrims. As the Canterbury Cathedral website puts it:
“Pilgrimage has always been an important part of Christian faith. The desire of Christians to grow in their relationship with God is often described as a journey and going on pilgrimage is a way of letting the outward journey of our bodies enrich and enable the inner journeys of our hearts and minds.”
I’m not sure my own journey is quite so grand or noble. But I hope some of the people I meet will open up and take an interest in what I have to share and that some interesting conversations will be had that can feed into the work on display at The Beaney.