Young Homeless Men Create Art Tour of Their Experiences
The Manchester Men's Room is a creative arts agency that works with marginalised and hard to reach young men, particularly those experiencing homelessness. They use art as a tool to help people turn their lives around and to help them access the support and services that they would not otherwise feel able to engage with.
Grow Wild funded their recent conceptual art walking tour ‘Lost. And Found’, which conveys an important message across the City of Manchester about the plight of those experiencing homelessness and often associated mental health issues. Manchester has seen a 300% rise in people living on the streets over the last few years. This impactful tour with intriguing peep-boxes installed on planters offers a window into somebody else's world to raise awareness of the reasons surrounding homelessness and to break associated stigma and stereotypes.
The inspiration for the tour and art work came from young men who had come through the experience of homelessness and wanted a creative platform to integrate their individual experiences, as well as start a point of conversation. They aim to stop people in their tracks, so that they can take notice and start to engage with the issues. The young men led the walking tour and spoke openly about what it is like to live on the streets and how they survived.
Fergul McCullough, Director of the Men’s Room, spoke about how the project came about: “We wanted to get them in touch with the soil, to do something physical and find a connection with nature, but rather than create a standard garden they took the project in a different way, as a medium to express themselves and tell a story. The tour hopes to bring some light into the dark places of Manchester.”
Each installation has a theme and plants were chosen to symbolically represent what was being conveyed, with the planters placed in significant locations pertinent to the men's experiences.
One box, 'Wake up to Mental Health', challenges us to make the links with homelessness and conveys emotions of depression, pain, fear, isolation and anxiety.
Another highlighted the dangerous problem of 'legal highs' that became prevalent a few years ago, offering a cheap escape for those who are vulnerable. One man explained the devastating consequences: “they take you to a crazy place, cause psychosis, a self-induced coma, change your brain's chemical balance and even make you behave differently to your friends.” They have now been made illegal although the problem is still apparent.
The last box 'Found' represents survival and the men’s experiences of finding the Men's Room and being accepted for who they are.
“You feel like you've found yourself when you find a point of survival. You can forget about who you are if you become homeless, forget how to read, forget your old interests and hobbies. When someone starts to take an interest in you as a person it makes you realise that you are someone, that you don't have to become resigned to living on the streets.”
“The most important way that someone can respond to someone who is living on the streets is to acknowledge them with a simple greeting, a nod or 'how are you mate?', a chat about the football; something that makes you feel like an ordinary person and breaks the feeling of isolation.”
The young men spoke of the need for more initiatives like this that address the issues of homelessness and places like the Men's Room that offer hope and a safe place. The planters and peep-boxes are now installed at Hulme Community Garden Centre, where people can continue to engage in the conversation.
Check out more photos from the project on our Facebook page.
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