This year marks a few milestones for me - 20 years running charities (beginning with Streetwise Opera which started in 2002 and now Arts & Homelessness International, the global network of arts and homelessness, which launched at the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad). I have also just turned 50...
I wondered how to mark these milestones and then realised the answer was staring me in the face - a keen cyclist, I ride round Richmond Park in London most days. The symmetry of 20 laps for 20 years appealed, until I realised it equates to 220km.
While it is not a cause for celebration to have been working in homelessness for over 2 decades with the situation still desperate for people who are or have been homeless, it is important to reflect on the positive work that has been done in this field by AHI and others and try to help keep it going.
Over the last 20 years I have worked with around 7,000 artists who have been homeless through operas that have won awards, 5-star reviews and been televised on the BBC, performance showcases at the London and Rio Cultural Olympiads (see photo) and recently an event at the United Nations platforming women and creativity in homelessness from around the world.
Over that time I have seen so many times how the arts can heal, be a safe sanctuary in a sea of chaos, build well-being, voice, agency, positive social networks, well-being, routes into employment and challenge stereotypes - arts can show us what is strong and not wrong about us. There are now over 500 members in our network at AHI - projects, charities and NGOs around the world using arts as a tool for positive change and justice in homelessness.
When I first started in charity work, I was part of a workforce dominated by privileged home-owners - this is changing now and AHI is helping to lead that change with 50% of our board and staff made up of people who are or have been homeless. Those nearest the pain are often nearest the solution - and often have developed incredible strengths and skills because of their experiences including resilience, risk-taking, empathy and networking.
At AHI our work focusses bringing positive impacts to homeless people, projects and policy. We run festivals, arts projects and exchanged and work in advocacy, research and training, making the case for and normalising arts and creativity with homeless people.
We are now working hard to help create more democracy and equity: Enabling more creatives to work in the arts through our Associates cultural leadership programme (see photo of our first cohort of Associates) and by using Legislative Theatre to help councils create policy WITH homeless people not FOR them (see photo below of the group of actors made up of council staff and people who are homeless in the London Borough of Haringey who worked with facilitator Katy Rubin to co-create policy for the Rough Sleeping Strategy).
There is still so much more to do and it feels as though we have just begun. Thank you for reading this and if you put your hand in your pocket, especially during the cost-of-living crisis, we would be so grateful.
This challenge is one that is especially poignant - it is almost 3 years to the day since I was hit by a car on my bike, leaving me with multiple fractures to my pelvis, shoulder, ribs, hand and a collapsed lung. After a short spell in intensive care, a longer-spell in hospital and then bed, I got back on my bike to help my recovery from my injuries and PTSD. I love cycling once or twice around Richmond Park most days so it seems fitting to attempt 20 laps for this challenge
- £20 will help pay for taxis for one of our disabled artists to get to and from an event
- £40 will pay for hot food for a group of homeless artists at an event
- £60 will pay a fee and refreshments for a creative who is homeless to perform or present their work at our monthly international network meeting
- £100 will fund a homeless artist to shadow and deliver a workshop in a museum on how to deepen access and involvement for homeless people
- £250 will pay for a training event delivered by homeless people working with a company to improve how they work with homeless people
- £500 will pay for the whole annual personal project budget for one of our leadership Associates to enable them to realise their dream
- £1,000 will pay for a training module for all 8 of our leadership Associates giving them valuable skills to take them forward into further employment
- £5,000 will fund the tour of our global Send a Smile postcard project where hundreds of homeless people shared poetry and drawings on postcards from around the world
- £10,000 will fund a whole Legislative Theatre policy project over a year which will create lasting policy change in local government, employment for homeless people and democratise decision-making
I will be attempting the challenge on 15 October! Let me know if you want to tag along for a lap or more... I will be taking it easy with plenty of breaks! Or come and cheer me on!