Poetry was something I thought was utterly pointless. When I was much younger I felt I couldn’t connect with poets. I’m from a council estate in Bolton after all.
But while I was in school I happened to come across a poet called JB Barrington, a proud Salford lad. I felt I could connect with his work and so began my interest in exploring creativity as a whole. Fast forward a couple of years and I’m often scribbling a profusion of ideas in my notebook. Creativity is incredibly important. It’s a chance to express myself and give important social issues, like homelessness, a platform – from writing to filmmaking.
Homelessness has become a very personal subject to me and I am keen to get people discussing it. After all, it isn’t going away any time soon. I had been involved in activism in Bolton. I began to hear stories of how people were left homeless and then dug deeper. I saw a Facebook post asking for help in a street kitchen in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens and I felt I needed to help in some way, so I did.
I volunteered there for several months and eventually became involved in a squat in October 2015. Former footballer Gary Neville happened to own the building.
I have encountered many faces along the way. I’ve seen compassion in the eyes of those who have very little and I’ve met countless individuals who have visions of combating homelessness through unity and creativity, thus inspiring me to do more. In 2015, I co-founded a book at Bolton Sixth Form College with senior tutor Sharon Wilkie-Jones, consisting of poetry, short stories and photography from students and staff at the college and beyond. The aim was to raise awareness of homelessness through creativity and promote literacy skills.
According to a report in 2014 by charity St Mungo’s Broadway, over half of homeless people lack reading and writing skills. Having seen the good creativity can do in squats, I believe it is something that unites us all and can even help educate people. My aim is to create change through this medium.
The homelessness awareness book has been incorporated into the GCSE English syllabus at Bolton Sixth Form College, which, along with Turton School, is doing performances based on the book’s stories. These young people are using creative performance to address this issue and inspire others to create change. That really is a testament to an often dismissed generation.
Education is fundamental to changing the way people think about homelessness. Throwing eggs and branding people scum because their opinion differs from your own doesn’t win anybody over. It’s about being coherent with your opinion and being open to discussion.
On 8 March, International Women’s Day, we released the second edition of our book, Share. It focuses on the distinct issue of female homelessness with an array of written pieces, artwork and photography, as well as facts and figures.
Homelessness is a complex issue. We have achieved what we set out to do and that’s opening up a discussion about homelessness across our community.
I wouldn’t be writing this column if that wasn’t the case; for that I am proud of my town and all associated with this project.
If you would like to know more about Share, contact SWilkie-Jones@boltons-sfc.ac.uk or firstname.lastname@example.org. The book is priced at £2.50, with half of proceeds going to Bolton Young Persons Housing Scheme and the other half covering printing costs. You can buy it from Hope 4 Homeless UK in Bolton, or from Bolton Sixth Form College by ringing 01204 846215