Posted on 2 Comments

Finding your Social mission

Why do you do what you do?

What makes you tick? What is at the very heart of your passion?

These are the questions I’ve been asking in order to find my Social Mission, the deepest Why? Of my business.

Keep asking “Why?”

Recently I was told if I want to get to the root of why I’m here I need to keep asking Why?

I’m looking at a business where my profits go towards running craft and art classes for homeless people

Why?

Because I want to build confidence in homeless people

Why?

Because I don’t think they see their value. I don’t think others see that they have a value.

Why?

Because living on the streets makes you feel worthless

(Some Whys can be more specific – you might need a critical friend for this)

Why homeless people?

Because everyone else has something of their own

(If you hit a wall try backtracking)

Why art and craft?

Because it’s what I know…

…because everyone can draw or make something…

Why?

Because people appreciate art & crafts
When you’ve been beaten down its hard to accept love for yourself, it’s easier to accept appreciation for what you do rather than who you are.

Maybe learning to be appreciated for what you make is the first step towards accepting appreciation for who you are. 

Why is it important to accept appreciation?

Because maybe, if you can accept that others love and appreciate you, the next step is loving and appreciating yourself.

Why is that important?

Because, can we really change for the better if we don’t love ourselves?

Because I know what damage hating yourself can do.

I believe change comes from a belief in self worth.

I believe that art & crafts can be learnt by everyone.

I believe that creating space for arts and crafts can be the starting point.

In my own situation, life started to change when I met people who believed in me, but it was only when I learned to believe in myself that life changed permanently.

I believe if I can create an art space where everyone is accepted then lives can begin to change.

If I can show people who feel worthless, their value, I can begin to turn the tide of lives wasted.

If I can begin to change a few lives, we can change the world.

Posted on Leave a comment

The old time hostels

Just thought I’d share this.

It’s part of a documentary from the 80’s about the Salvation Army. This clip shows one of the hostels I grew up in and my parents managed.

Things have changed a lot since those days (thankfully), but fond memories of many of the people I grew up around.

Anyway, enjoy watching my mum trying to reach the suit hanger and my dad’s stunning sideburns (I forgot about his sideburns).

Posted on 4 Comments

The Poverty of Self Worth

I’ve just come home from one of the most frustrating evenings.

I’ve been in London for the launch of the Joseph Rountree Foundation strategy for solving poverty in the UK. An important event which I urge you to search the hashtag #solveukpoverty and find the video of the event.

At 4pm we (20 of us) arrived for our train home to find all trains to Leeds from Kings Cross cancelled, we headed to St Pancras to catch a train to Sheffield with a plan of a further train home from there. But, so did hundreds of other rush hour commuters.

I was fortunate to get a seat and slept all the way to Derby (I didn’t sleep much the night before) where we were told to get off the train and wait for the Edinburgh train which went through Leeds. We followed the advice and found ourselves crammed onto a train with no chance of a seat. Eventually, with sore feet and a sore back I got to Leeds, several hours late and beginning to feel hungry. 

I went to McDonald’s only to get to the counter and my purse wasn’t in the pocket it usually is, neither was it in any other pockets I checked. I stood at the counter with most of my belongings spread out in front of me and the heavy feeling of loss came over me.

Thankfully some of my friends were still in the station and they had the level headedness to make me take everything out of my bag. There, right at the bottom of the main pocket – where I never normally put it, was the tiny thing I call a purse.

Relief.

I remembered that my student travel card had run out and I headed to the ticket office to renew it for tomorrow, only to be told the pass I use was discontinued this month and I couldn’t buy my monthly ticket. I was at that point, one nerve away from destruction and I stood my ground, rather I stood at the counter and refused to move until my discontinued pass was issued. It was a hairy ten minutes, but eventually they relented and a pass was bought.

Now, desperate for a sit down and food I staggered to the counter at McDonalds and tried a second time to place an order.

It was about half way through my meal that I noticed a man sitting at the table next to me, I say man, but really I’d put his age around 20. A young lad. He wasn’t sat exactly at the table, more beside it, hunched over. In his hands was a small burger, no chips, no coke. He was eating as though this was the first meal in days.

I’ve been around homeless people most of my life, but not in a long time have I seen someone who’s clothes were covered in that much dirt, his face was so caked in street life that the only expression I saw was despair.

It was at this point I remembered why my purse was in the pocket it was. I’d bought a bottle of Coke and a bag of mints in London and in a bit of a rush I’d just thrown everything in the bag. I took out the drink and mints and put them beside him, “something for later” I told him.

A few moments later I looked up and saw a man sitting at a table with friends, he’d seen what I’d given the young lad and smiled at me. I smiled back but my heart was heavy.

The JRF event I’d been to just that morning was about introducing long thought out strategies to help reduce the UK poverty epidemic. I’d sat amongst council leaders, politicians, financial advisors and charity leaders. We heard about the poverty in families, how a child born in a poor area on average will die nine years before a child born in a wealthy area.

The never ending poverty caused by zero hour contracts and low pay employment that will see many people leading a life of low wage work.

Then my friend, Mary, stood and spoke about her part of Leeds and the struggle of men in HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupancy), where the negative effects of living in a tiny room with a bed in one corner and a cooker in the other leaves many of our men (and women) unable to buy enough food for the week.

A new poverty was mentioned, spiritual poverty, self worth poverty, where a person has been beaten down so low emotionally that they don’t have the belief that they can escape. The loneliness of living in a tiny room, not knowing your neighbours, not having enough food, having to choose between food and warmth, little things like having to remember to take toilet paper with you everytime you need the loo, trying to sleep with the sound of the fridge a few feet from your bed, not having the money or room for a washing machine and having no laundromat nearby. Each little bit of decency and hope being chipped away until you feel so unloved, so worthless that there seems no answer except death. This isn’t some third world country or some communist state, this is the UK, this is Leeds, Sheffield, London…

And here I am, sitting next to a young lad, the government could give him more money, but his addiction to the bottle of spirits hanging out of his pocket has too much of a grip on his finances. The council could (and should) build more homes so he can have his own bathroom to keep himself clean, but I suspect he isn’t yet stable enough to regularly pay the bills. We could even find a sympathetic employer but I think he’s a long way off keeping to a timetable. He needs something else. 

Some will laugh at my feeble attempt of giving, others will smirk and consider it wasteful suggesting he will sell the snacks for money for alcohol. Y’know, I don’t care. Perhaps, when the alcohol has gone and the pains for more are beginning he will find a bag of mints in his pocket, most likely he won’t remember me, but perhaps he’ll think to himself, someone cared and perhaps a tiny spark will stir in his soul. Maybe, just maybe, if enough people do small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness, the sparks will grow and he’ll find the belief that maybe, just maybe he is worth more than this.

The young lad gets up and thanks me, then staggers out the door, a little while later I’m outside the train station, waiting for my taxi to arrive. I see a man walking to the station, sniggering, as he comes nearer he mutters something and looks towards the row of luggage trolleys. There on the concrete is the young lad, asleep on the cold ground, thankfully it’s not raining. Already a station staff member is on his radio and the sniggering man joins the staff member, then a third man joins in the joke that is homelessness.

As my taxi pulls up I see a police officer arrive and know already this young lad faces the possibility of a night in a cell.

Every so often I come back to an old photo of me, a grainy image of a girl about the age of the young lad who sat next to me. I’ve not thought of the image for a while, but I remember it now.

 When I talk about the spark in the lads soul I speak as someone who once had no spark. I once was that young lad. 

Maybe I’m just so tired that emotions are getting the better of me, or maybe what is on my heart needs to be said. 

If I hadn’t had small acts of kindness, people who became friends despite my unfriendliness, people who never saw me as worthless, I may never have made it this far.

We will always have people who snigger, people who tweet about about ‘benefit wasters’, TV programmes about so called scroungers, Loud and foul mouthed celebrities wanting to stir hatred. 

But we must, always, have more people willing to stir the sparks of hope, and perhaps in 20 years time a man in his 40s, will be sitting in a suit in McDonalds, after a stressful and long train journey. Maybe he’ll sit down with his meal and put his briefcase beside him and look across the room and see a young lad with no spark. 

And maybe, just maybe, this university educated business man will remember a night twenty years earlier when some stranger showed an act of kindness with a packet of mints.

Posted on 1 Comment

The Price of a Coffee

There’s a scene in the film Schindler’s list, where freedom is in sight for the Jewish people but Oskar Schindler is having to flee. He looks around at the mass of people he helped keep alive and no one would complain if he then surveyed the survivors and shouted at how great it is that so many survived.

Instead he looks at what he still has, the ring made by hidden bits of gold fillings, his car to help him escape… How many more people’s freedom could he have bought? It’s the part of the movie that always gets to me. That realisation that how ever much you have given, you might have been able to give that little bit more. As a Salvationist it’s something that drives me:

“While women weep, as they do now,

I’ll fight

While little children go hungry, as they do now, 

I’ll fight

While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, 

I’ll fight

While there is a drunkard left, 

While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, 

While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, 

I’ll fight-I’ll fight to the very end!”

― William Booth

There are some people who know the value of a life and put themselves in a position to do the most good. Oskar could’ve sold his car, but that lavish lifestyle helped get him into places where he could do the most good. Would he have been able to get into the nazi regime if he had turned up on shanks’ pony? If he turned up to a party asking to buy human beings but only bringing cheap wine, would he have got through the door?

I have been lucky enough to experience poverty and to be around people who know how the price of a coffee for some, could mean the difference between an evening meal or a night of hunger. I’ve met women selling their bodies to unknown men in darkened cars so they can put £10 on their electricity meter, and although the going rate for sex in Leeds is a little higher (sorry to be blunt, but sometimes you just shouldn’t mince your words), each time I go into a costa coffee shop I’m reminded of the women I met who charged less than the price of my coffee.

Lucky? Yeah, it’s strange to think of it as luck. A privilege maybe to know real survivors and real strong women, yes, most definitely.

A lot of my ideas and university projects are based around charity projects, mittens for women who work in the cold, craft classes that are cheap enough for all, knitting groups in places that don’t expect you to pay a fortune for a drink.

I know how many people in poverty don’t have the luxury of a wide screen TV and SKY (despite the myth that we all do) I read the studies that show how knitting and crafts can help boost confidence and keep depression at bay, but I also know how the hidden extras of attending a craft group can keep some from benefiting. 

Our latest project at Uni is a craft project. We’re making a quilt by hand, learning the techniques of making and producing a one of a kind item. Two quilt groups, two single quilts.

We asked what is going to happen with the quilts at the end of the project and were told they would be given to a local charity for a family in need. Two quilts to help two families.

Sounds wonderful.

And yet… Something bothers me.

I’ve seen before where something is given to charity with conditions, or in some cases, no conditions but the wrong gift.

  
Recently I heard a story from members of the guild for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.

They had a community project where they made knitted squares that were sewn together to make dressing gowns. The idea being that they would keep someone warm over winter when they couldn’t afford heating.

This might be the charity they gave them to.

Cosy at Christmas

Nothing wrong with the idea I suppose, not my cup of tea. I’d rather keep warm with heating or in something a bit less colourful, but the thought is certainly there.

The story I heard was that members of the guild were becoming increasingly worried about the squares they were knitting. Would a person in poverty know how to wash their hand spun, hand knitted luxury squares? Would a poor person know how to wash delicates?

I pointed out to the people worrying that the chances of the person having the means to wash the dressing gown was more of a worry than whether they would damage all their hard work.

It’s not just that many people in poverty don’t have a washing machine, nor is it the lack of laundromats in poorer areas, the simple choice of fitting one bulky gown over several everyday items of clothing into the machine means they might never get washed. At a fiver a load, washing clothing becomes a choice of what is needed most.

There is another niggle I have about choosing what to give. I know many people don’t give cash to people begging on the streets and I see the logic in donating that money to a charity instead, each to their own in that respect. As long as you really do give to the charity instead!

It’s the giving situations where choice is denied the receiver. Those times when you decide to buy the guy a coffee instead of giving cash, but don’t ask first whether the guy even likes coffee, never mind if he even wants one.

The ever recurring rumour that the government will give people on benefits cards to shop in certain places instead of allowing them the choice to spend the benefit money where they want (yep, I know it allows people to spend their benefit on things you might not approve of, I’m sure some of you’ve spend money on things I don’t approve of) So what if some of my benefit money is spend on wool, it keeps depression at bay, has got me into University, and put me in the positive mood to write this blog that you so enjoy.

It’s the removing of choice I disagree with. The idea that because you are poor, your choices cannot be trusted. The feeling of despair you feel when you have so little, and then even the freedom to choose is removed from you.

And that, kind of brings me back to the quilt.

It’s a lovely gesture, hand sewing a quilt, putting hours of love into the project, imagining the faces of those little poor kids who can’t wait to sleep under their quilt. Won’t they be so grateful, so appreciative, won’t they just love me all the more for it, won’t I be treasured in their minds with every warm sleep they get because someone hand sewed a quilt for them. And won’t I get such a warm fuzzy feeling in my giving. Won’t I sleep so soundly under my 15 tog duvet with freshly laundered cover knowing that somewhere in town is a little child sleeping under my thin hand sewn quilt.

And suddenly it no longer becomes about helping a family, but about how grateful they should be and how fuzzy my feelings will be.

I challenged this idea, suggesting an alternative. What if the charity were allowed to sell the quilt, maybe they’d get £100, maybe £10, but what if that quilt could help 2 people? Two quilts, four families helped? Two quilts, twenty families helped?

A quick look on Asda gave me this information:

http://direct.asda.com/george/home-garden/duvets/D26M04G04C14,default,sc.html#http://direct.asda.com/george/home-garden/duvets/D26M04G04C14,default,sc.html?srule=g_price_asc&start=0&sz=20

£7 – single size summer duvet

£15 – Slumberdown 13.5 tog duvet and pillow set.

  
Hand sewn traditional quilts are lovely, don’t get me wrong. I’d love someone to make me one, but it would just be decoration. The quilts at Uni are filled with the thinnest stuffing available and small, they just fit a single bed. You couldn’t wrap up warm in one. 

It wouldn’t replace the softness of a cheap duvet, and it can’t be changed with a new cover as often as the £7 Asda duvet. Who’d pay me £14 for a hand made single duvet? (I’m imagining hands shooting up) Two children will benefit if you do, what about £21 (three children) how many children do you want to keep warm? 

Sadly, I’m in the minority. One family is going to receive our quilt, I hope they like it, maybe they’ll spread it across their knees while watching the wide screen TV they don’t have, maybe they’ll spread it on the floor as a rug. Our quilt group has chosen what will happen to it, we now have to choose which charity is given it.

I have another suggestion, what if every student in the quilt group took the finished quilt home for one night. What if they turned off their heating, removed their duvet and spent the night under the quilt, then decided whether it would benefit a family.

What if I took them on a day trip, I could show them the family who live on my street, no wallpaper, little furniture and bits of scrap carpet for walking on. Four people living in a one roomed flat, a teenager and his little sister sleeping night after night on the sofa (year after year!), mum and grandmother sharing the only bed. What if the students were allowed to go to their little flat and hand the quilt over, sure the fuzzy feeling would be overwhelming, and my neighbours would be grateful, oh my, they would be so grateful. What if, when walking out of the flat I pointed to another flat, same situation. What about them? Two quilts… How many families?

Posted on Leave a comment

Feminism and The Salvation Army

When I go back to Uni after Easter I begin a new project looking at quilt making.

A group of us are going to hand sew a quilt and either give it to a family in poverty or let a charity sell it and use the money to help others in poverty.

I’ve been looking at themes for the quilt and looking at feminism, in particular, feminism in my own upbringing.

I was raised in a Salvation Army home where both my parents are officers*, my parents had a choice between leading a corps and managing a hostel, they chose to run hostels. This meant living in a flat within the hostel and raising your family as part of the hostel ‘home’ – one big happy family!

I was always proud to be a part of a church at the front of women’s equality. The Army founder, William Booth, was very vocal on women’s equality in the church. I took this from The Salvation Army’s UK website.

Gender equality

“I insist on the equality of women with men,” said our founder William Booth in 1908. “Every officer and soldier should insist upon the truth that woman is as important, as valuable, as capable and as necessary to the progress and happiness of the world as man.”

As The Salvation Army became established, so women were given leadership responsibilities. Catherine Booth, William’s wife, fought to expand the role for women in church and public life, advocating better conditions and pay for women workers in London’s sweated labour, most notably in the match-making industry. In the early days of The Army, women were sent to open new corps (churches), while others started social work among the women of the streets. By 1878 there were nearly equal numbers of women officers (41) as there were men officers (49). William’s daughters are great examples of how important women were in the early development of The Army. Catherine (Kate) pioneered work France, while Emma became the principal of the first Army training home for women, Evangeline became the first female international leader (General) of The Salvation Army and Lucy led the Army’s work in India, Denmark, Norway and South America

This commitment to equality remains today.

I always knew that my parents wage wasn’t much, it wasn’t a job for them but a calling from God. I also knew that my mums wage was less than my dads but since my dad always handed all money to my mum it never crossed my mind whether this was fair.

In all honesty, being raised amongst homeless men left me more aware of the unfairness of men’s lives than women’s. I often saw the inequality of relationship breakdowns where often the woman retained the home and full custody of the children whilst the man left the home and became homeless. A lot of the men had children they never saw because the wife had remarried or the man was too ashamed of his living arrangements to visit his family.

Even as I worked myself in a men’s hostel I knew a single man had little chance of getting council housing and felt the despair that young men had from having to sleep on the streets, while a woman in an equal position had more chances.

I was quite looking forward to looking into feminism and thought my first port of call would have to be a chat with my mum. I didn’t expect what I found. Thankfully I had my video camera with me and decided to video the conversation.

Just for clarification, we were on our way to pick up a friend and also had my dad in the back. He’s pretty deaf these days and oblivious to most of the conversation. He’s happily yawning and singing in the back as usual.

So, here’s what I got from the video.

I was right about my parents wage not being equal, but didn’t realise that this had been a new change. For quite a while my mum didn’t get a wage at all, instead my dad got the whole pay packet. This meant my mum couldn’t pay the National Insurance stamps and didn’t qualify for a pension when she retired. The Salvation Army have since rectified this and top up my mum’s ‘Army’ pension to make up for what was lost.

My parents wage wasn’t much, like I said, this wasn’t a career but a calling. You did the ‘job’ because you knew God had asked you to do it. They often worked 70 hour weeks, but the pay was so little that they still qualified for child support payments. I always understood that the pay was purposely set so they could access benefits and save the Army some money. Even after the Army decided married women should be paid a wage mum was still only paid 40% of dad’s wage. In a sense it wasn’t an extra wage, just my dad losing a portion of his money and it going to my mum.

I remember whenever we went for our weekly food shopping the receipt was sent to the Army and the money claimed back. I never understood this, but even this seemed like a way for the Army to pay less of a decent wage. When itemised bills arrived it sent people into a bit of a panic, knowing that their itemised shopping receipt would be sent to their boss. From that time onwards we had two trolleys, with one being for things we didn’t want dad’s boss to know about. Of course, this was nothing dodgy, but mum didn’t want her boss to know she was buying sanitary towels!

My parents had the same title. The Army use military terms and officers were given ranks according to their years of service. Lieutenant, Captain, Major… If a woman married a man with a lower rank she had to take on his rank. Even if that rank was a ‘demotion’, but if a man married a woman of a higher rank he automatically took her rank (promoted), even though he hadn’t put in the years of service.

My understanding has always been that married officers work as an equal unit, and I like that idea. My parents (I believed) were joint managers of the hostel, my Aunty and Uncle, joint ministers of several churches. My Grandparents, joint ministers of their churches. Yep, my family goes all the way back to riding in William Booths motorcade!

Yet when the Army elects a new General it is the husband that carries the title of General, whilst his wife is made a Commissioner with the job role ‘World President for women’s ministries’. We have had a woman general in recent years, but General Eva Burrows was a single officer. If she had been married, she would be given the lower rank of Commissioner, in charge of women’s ministries. Will there ever be an occasion that the Army appoint a wife as the general and the husband takes on the lower rank? I doubt it, besides what will his job be? Will he be asked to manage women’s ministries? I wonder how many remarkable women have been held back because they married a man not as capable as she was?

Another problem my mum had, apart from not getting a full pension, was when she had to retire. Being ten years younger than my dad, who retired at 65, my mum had to retire with him at 55. Still very much young enough to work and do a lot of good in the world, yet forced to quit a job she loved. However in the opposite instance my dad would be allowed to retire or continue until my mums retirement. 

I knew my dad had been taught his wife’s role was to raise children, but mum fought hard to have her own place in the hostel. Often she would sneak down to the office to work without dad knowing, because she wasn’t given a desk of her own and was expected to do the paperwork at the dining room table. 

In the 80s, Dad was given an honourary degree from Manchester University (Polytechnic as it was) but my parents both did the work. Don’t be fooled into thinking my mum was some dainty little lady, she rolled her sleeves up to bath her share of long term rough sleeper and she stood her ground against aggressive drunks. My dad also was asked to speak in many places about his work in the hostel, but very rarely was mum rewarded, or asked to give her opinion. My dad was in several books, TV documentaries, magazines and newspaper articles, but mum… Never – Oh, she was filmed bathing a man for a channel 4 documentary film about dad once!

I’ve always been more respectful of my dad and his experiences, but after speaking to my mum, I finally have respect for her work too.

Despite no pay, being seen as lower than your equally qualified husband, and having to retire when you know you’ve not finished your life’s work, she, and many women officers have done jobs that many of us would turn their noses up.

It reminds me of a situation I saw shortly before my parents retired. I was about 20, living at home, which was a flat next to the men’s hostel in Leeds.

Like I said, my parents never had a great wage and new items were rare. My mum had spent the evening at a restaurant with women from the church and had worn a very expensive second hand dress, donated by our one richer relative, but it was one of mum’s few luxuries.

My mum came home, and within minutes there was a phone call from the hostel reception. A man in the hostel had cut himself and needed help. Immediately my mum went to help and although I usually avoided anything to do with the hostel I decided to go along. We walked along a corridor of doors leading to dormitories. On the floor was a trail of blood leading from the bathroom, all the way to one of the bedrooms. We followed the trail of blood.

In the dormitory was a man, very drunk, crying and covered in blood… I mean, covered! Even the mattress was soaked. Without a seconds thought I watched as my mother went and sat right next to him, putting her arm around his shoulder and talking to him gently. He was a man who had been married with children, but his wife had thrown him out. Today was his sons birthday and he had been turned away from his ex-wifes house. He had decided to drink and cut his wrists to end his life. 

It was the 90s and AIDS was just beginning to be talked about as passed through blood, yet my mother held the mans bleeding wrist with one hand and hugged him with her other arm, all the while telling him it would be okay.

I stood in the doorway watching the scene, worrying about my mum getting blood over her luxurious dress and the worry of  her sitting with a suicidal drunk, but to my mother, this man was worth the world.

So this post is for my mum, who often said she’d rather help bathe a dirty old homeless man than do a sermon.

  
*Because the Salvation Army uses unusual terms I will try and explain things further.

Corps – Church

General – The highest rank in the Salvation Army

Marching Orders – A letter that arrives informing you that you are moving to a new place. These days your circumstances are taken into consideration, but one reason I (and many officers children) didn’t get good qualifications at school was because our family moved during out vital exam years. I spent a lot of wasted German classes preparing for a German exam, only to move to a town where the school only taught French!

Officer – An ordained minister in The Salvation Army

Posted on Leave a comment

Being a Contemporary Practitioner

The last few weeks at Uni we’ve been looking at the role of a Contemporary Practitioner.

As far as I can gather this is an artist/crafter who works on commission based projects and community groups.

We’ve looked at the work of Lise Bjorne Linnert and her DESCONOCIDA UNKNOWN UKJENT project, trying to raise awareness of missing women in Mexico and Leigh Bowser’s Blood Bag project that raises awareness of the rare blood condition Diamond Blackfan Anaemia.

We made large group sculptures from yarn and looked at the Plutchnik Emotion circumplex that relates colour and emotion.

One project I really enjoyed was the Grayson Perry tapestries and the idea of class that led me on a whole path of exploration.

I took a trip to London and visited the disobedient objects exhibition at the V&A.

It all ended up with two project ideas that I might even take further.

Both ideas revolve around my work with street workers in my home town and the Joanna project.

Quilts of Hope came from my thinking that we are wanting women to give up their prostitution lifestyle (a way of making money) but not offering anything in it’s place. The Joanna project has recently opened a building that will be a safe house in the daytime. I looked into an idea of teaching women sewing skills through the making of a joint quilt filled with messages of hope. The women hopefully could go on to make and sell their own sewn items and the project could use the quilt as a comfort blanket in times of distress.

Dark Sided came from the experience of opening the Joanna building. Neighbours complained that we would be bringing prostitution into the area, which has been a red light area for decades. It plays on the idea that we don’t see the dark sides of life under our noses, but if we made them pretty people might take notice.

It took everyday images of life and turned them into individual crafted objects in the hope that the messages might get across.

I crocheted a condom, placing it in an alleyway and photographing it. Actually, with time running out I photographed it against my own wall at home. The first time I came out with the condom and camera my neighbour had a visitor (he sells cannabis, so I had to wait a few minutes for his client to be served and leave).

Untitled

I took a quote from a victim and embroidered it as a sampler, I don’t know many people who can’t avoid reading embroidered text.

Untitled1

Another idea was taking a sleeping bag and embroidering something pretty on it, because no one likes to see homeless people. This wasn’t something I could physically do, so I recreated the image in CAD.

Untitled2

I really enjoyed these projects and although I don’t think I’m a contemporary practitioner I think there will always be an element of the community work in what I do.

http://www.lisebjorne.com

http://thebloodbagproject.tumblr.com

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/disobedient-objects/

Posted on Leave a comment

Never underestimate a Yorkshire lass.

I try to keep my on line image as a crafting person very organised and positive (apart from the odd moan). Recently though, something happened that I can only say is a bit of a wonder.

So, I’ve decided to start some personal blogs about the ‘Me’ behind Betty Virago. Take these posts or leave them, if what I say isn’t for you, then tip your hat, wish me well, and continue searching craft posts.

I wrote a post last year, a bit of a moan, about being let down by Bradford college and a textile craft diploma I applied for. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and at the time I felt angry and “Why is it always me?” about the whole thing.

There is a saying…

God has three answers.. “Yes, Not Yet and I have something better in mind”

I forgot that the third answer isn’t No.

A few months after that rejection I was with my knitting buddies at the Knit & Stitch show in Harrogate, a massive and jam-packed event. Well worth a trip to Yorkshire and at the same time you can visit the Yorkshire mecca, Betty’s tea shop.

Downstairs at the exhibition there is a line of colleges advertising their courses and one caught my eye. Huddersfield University had a degree in Art & Craft textiles. I took a brochure and looked and looked.

School was a place to went to, to get out of the house, not a place for learning, so GCSE’s are lacking. All my qualifications were gained during later employment and personal study and none were related to art or craft in any way. Eventually I worked out how to apply for the course (I know nothing about Uni and I didn’t even know the first thing about how to apply for the course).

In February I was working with Leeds Poverty Truth, settled on teaching little craft classes and selling patterns and crafts. But I had managed to get an interview at Huddersfield, mainly thanks to a superb reference from Boris at Inkwell (Leeds MIND).

The Uni asked me to bring my portfolio to the interview!!! Portfolio? Everyone I asked said not to worry, just take some of my work and I’ll be fine.

Anyway, the interview day arrived. I entered a room with several young people, all carrying huge black leather bound portfolios crammed with stuff. Each young person was accompanied by one or two parents and all looked organised and smart. I own jeans and t-shirts, that’s my whole wardrobe.

We were asked to put our portfolios on a table and go on a tour of the University campus while our work was assessed. Everyone placed their open folders on a table. I pulled out a Tupperware box of bits and a pack of photos. What a idiot I felt! Totally out of my depth.

We went on a tour, very nice. The course works around four techniques, Knitting, weaving, dyeing and embroidery. Every machine is available to use from traditional floor looms to enormous computerised machines. It was fantastic, but the whole time I just wanted to go home. Sadly I had to stick it out, after all, they had my box of things and some of them were on Etsy, I couldn’t just leave them.

After the tour we were led into a room where we had to wait to be interviewed in pairs. There I sat, surrounded by youngsters and parents, uncomfortable, awkward, wanting the ground to swallow me whole. So I did what any other crafter would do in my position, I took out my crochet.

Me and a young girl were the last to be interviewed. Yep, it seemed like I was in that room waiting for hours.

The teacher was very nice, didn’t laugh at my ‘portfolio’, suggested I start writing out my ideas before making things – I have an idea and work it out in my head instead of putting it on paper.

The young girl had stuff, lots of it. Pages of experiments, she was nice though and I gave her my details, so when she comes to Uni she can contact me and I can teach her crochet.

Then I went home.

Like I said, God has three answers and none of them are No. A year ago I applied for a course at Bradford college and it fell through. God had something better in mind.

A few weeks after the interview I had an email, I was offered a place at Huddersfield starting, well, it’s starting in five weeks. The loans and grants have been applied for, disabled student support organised, travel journey planned, new pencil case bought (well, that’s a right of passage). In a few weeks I’m going to be getting up and travelling the train to Huddersfield and It’s not really hit me yet, even after all these months of organising it.

Underneath the Betty Virago image is someone who thinks they won’t achieve much… on the other hand…

Another thing that happened last year was my computer broke. I lost a lot of stuff, all my music and all the photos of me. I have 2 photos of me now and I’ll share them because there is something important that these two photos say. A message for everyone who thinks good things won’t happen, life won’t improve, God doesn’t say Yes.

1997 This photo was taken almost 20 years ago. It’s me, yep, that’s right. I’m sitting in a doorway, wrapped in a blanket (my bed for the night) eating handed out food and drinking cider.

It’s a newspaper cutting that I keep in my bible to remind me how far I’ve come. taken at one of my lowest points in life.

If you want to read more then visit the Leeds Poverty Truth blog

http://leedspovertytruth.wordpress.com/

Or watch the video on Youtube

I’m there at 45 mins in.

The only other photo I have was taken by a photographer working for Leeds Poverty Truth. It’s my “after” photo.

2014So here’s my message.

No person is a loser. No life is a waste. You, yes YOU, can make it.

Some of you will think, God, bah humbug. Okay, then the human spirit can do remarkable things. take from this what you need and continue looking at my craft posts.

But there are those of you, maybe just one person, who needs to hear this.

God does not say No

God does not make mistakes

God does not make worthless people

 

You are worth it.