In 2019 Arts & Homelessness International (then known as With One Voice) published Home: A Review of Cultural Spaces and Homelessness, an international research showcasing over 30 examples world-wide of how cultural spaces were working with homeless people. We co-created a free, downloadable toolkit with partners Museum of Homelessness and people who are or have been homeless and piloted a bespoke training programme at Manchester Museum and Tate Modern. March 2020 was to be the launch of the programme that never was.
Throughout the first few months of the pandemic, we continued to support cultural spaces by listening to their needs, amplifying good practice on the ground and, as ever, centering and uplifting the voices of people who are or have been homeless. We published the COVID-19 Cultural Spaces guidance (with MoH and Union Chapel) and started the pilot Peer Network, meeting regularly with venues who had already undertaken training, we were working closely or were about to sign up (Barbican, White Chapel, Tate, Southbank Centre, Manchester Museum, Belgrade Theatre).
In the pipeline had always been our dream to expand the team who can train venues, working closely with a tight group of freelancers who had experienced homelessness and who could not only add capacity to our small team but could also make the training and resources their own, evolving the Cultural Spaces Programme to keep it fresh and relevant.
Whilst the pandemic had wiped out venues’ budgets and we were seeing many of our colleagues leave the industry or on furlough, the need and relevance for our Programme was only being made more apparent with homeless communities lacking facilities in lockdown cities, with an ever-growing hunger for culture across all sectors of society.
The opportunity to test out our assumptions around growth and replication of the programme came with the Co-creating Change commission.
What we did
We set out to work with a group of co-creators (5 individuals, 4 if which had lived experience of homelessness) across 8 months to design in action a “train the trainer” programme with the aim to:
- Support the individual practitioners to become trainers for cultural spaces
- Show measurable improvements in well-being, knowledge, skills, agency and resilience for the trainers on the programme
- Improve the access and involvement for homeless people in at least 3 cultural spaces
- Disseminate the learning of our co-production methodology to the cultural sector enabling more arts organisations to work more in co-production with homeless people
- Improve how arts organisations co-produce
- Improve our own co-production methodology and
- Increase our capacity to train (both online and in multiple locations in the UK)
To do this, we got in touch with Lisa Ogun, Benji Lain, Bengy Spear, Simon Leroux and Mitchel Ceney – a diverse group of freelance artists, facilitators, change makers and arts workers/practitioners who were all known to AHI yet hadn’t been engaged cohesively over a long term period.
We ran a total of 5 sessions online building towards an online taster workshop (May 2021) open to anyone interested to learn more about the Cultural Spaces Programme. The event was led by the new trainers, with support form AHI staff and was attended by over 40 people. There was a debrief opportunity afterwards and all trainers fed into our evaluation framework by sharing feedback in written and drawing format.
4 of the 5 trainers also took part in person in the 2nd international Arts & Homelessness Summit which took place in Coventry and online (October 2021). Lisa Ogun ran a Creative Writing workshop, Simon Leroux took part of a Music Production practice exchange, Bengy Spear took part in a panel on intersectionality, introduced Coventry work and supported the team with front of house and Benji Lain was on the panel about Cultural Spaces responses to homelessness also attended by National Theatre Wales amongst others.
During our training sessions, we first shared the existing knowledge and resources and had meaningful discussions about cultural spaces, our experiences with venues and COVID specific changes/challenges and opportunities. After that, and by mutually deciding with the group that this was a neat way of doing it, a pair of trainers would take on the responsibility to lead the next session. They would prepare this, and skill share with the rest. We took our toolkit as structure and shared exercises, prompts and tasks with each other, feeding back on what worked and what could be improved. We then proceeded to create the taster workshop, allocating different chunks to different trainers and co-leading the session with a group of paying participants.
The co-creators were paid for all the training sessions and participation opportunities they took part in as well as all the planning session that arose from co-creating how we’d work together.
What we learned
Sessions are more than sessions
Working with the trainers was joyful, entertaining and fulfilling for all. All trainers reported feelings of pride, wordiness, acceptance.
“We very quickly formed into a ‘nest’; a safe-space team; a family which, although interaction was through online zoom, became a feature on my schedule that I looked forward to each month […] engaging, participating, and contributing would then be cash rewarded added to that feeling of worthiness […] Knowing that I could be part of a team that could affect social change has filled me with hope” – Lisa
“Being part of the AHI Co-Creators team has made me proud. I feel I am involved in something very worthwhile. It has improved my confidence in myself and my professional relationships and communication especially.” – Mitchel
This showed how important peer learning opportunities are, especially during the pandemic when we were all isolated.
The skills shared go a long way
Beyond the immediate use of the skills we learned, their impact is felt much deeper in people’s lives and their other work.
“For me being recognised for being a change maker has helped me with my communication skills and my acceptance of past hurts and enduring pain.” Bengy
“This experience has given me more tools to support this, I make notes/bullet points and prepare for what I need to say. I also know that I have the support of the team and this really helps.” Mitchel
“Being a trustee to two other Charity organisations, one with a world-renowned acclaim, has had me question their own policies and have them look at their provisions and culture.” Lisa
Lived experience as superpower, not a weakness
Co-creation re-positions lived experience as something one can draw from, as knowledge and expertise that are valuable and important.
“I feel a lot more resourceful and am looking forward to using my difficult experiences of homelessness and addiction to change things for the better. I don’t plan on stopping doing this kind of work anytime soon, it needs doing!!!” – Mitchel
“My voice is now certainly my power and to work with shiny and new thoughts and thinkers has taught me that the life I’ve lead may not be a simple one, but it has taken me on the long journey to satisfaction of I can only move forward and win.” – Bengy
Co-creation always needs more time than planned
Despite our experience in co-creating, we often underestimate the time we need to properly schedule, manage, create, and deliver sessions, workshops and events. Throughout our work together there were times when co-creators needed time and space to address mental health or other commitments. The AHI team too had periods of ill health and heavy workload which ultimately resulted in less sessions being held. On the bright side, all co-creators but one were able to attend the Summit thus participating and facilitating beyond the scope of the Cultural Spaces Programme which in turn will provide interesting blueprint to build our upcoming Associate Programme.
The best outcomes come unplanned
We planned for our co-production methodology to be improved (which it was), to adapt our tools (which we did) and for arts organisations to be more confident in working with homeless people (which they are). We didn’t plan for some concrete outcomes which came about through conversations and links being build and that deserve a special mention: co-creators took part in the Peer Network with venues who had already undertaken training or were about to sign in. One of the trainers who is also an artists got commissioned to work with the Barbican as a result. One of the attended of the taster workshop was the Museum of Justice with who we co-created a job opportunity for a homeless person in Nottingham and who is sponsoring a space on our upcoming Associate Programme.
“Feeling impatient and inspired in equal measure! […] And today made me feel supported and connected as I’m sure everyone did. Thank you. You’re a creative inspiration.” Andrea Hadley-Johnson at Justice Museum Nottingham (feeding back after taster workshop)
Balancing business and co-creation isn’t easy
The current climate has put a lot of pressures on cultural spaces and some have slashed training budgets and put working with underrepresented communities and those deemed “hard to reach” on the back burner. Where we have seen an increased interest in our work in local authorities and with certain venue staff, this is not always met with adequate funding.
We are immensely proud and grateful to be working with funders who support and understand each time better the challenges and rewards of co-creation. However, demonstrating “value for money” is hard especially when the work might be seen “in competition” with other fundamental work in the areas of diversity and inclusion. Whilst our aim is to make of the cultural spaces an earned income stream for AHI, we continue to struggle to find a balance between pricing and the amount of work that upskilling, planning and post-delivery support takes.
“[…] I feel we have never enough about collaboration and shared funding for Homelessness Organisational activity and/or Gallery Shows.” Karen Brackenridge, Manchester Museum
We are excited to continue working with the co-creators. All of those who have been homeless will officially integrate the first AHI Associate Programme (AS), a year long leadership and professional development programme. Between now and April when it starts, we will take some time to reflect on Coventry, hone our skills as trainers (especially in person since all our training has been online) and co-create some of the content and types of partners people want to see part of the AS.
The Associate Programme is a continuation of our growth and replication enquiry. We will work with a cohort of 8 individuals in a more focused way, channelling the many ad hoc opportunities that typically arise in a year in a way that supports each individual’s growth and aspirations. We will include one-to-one coaching, a personal budget to realise a project and training allowance. Participation will be paid and additional ad hoc freelance work with be offered too.
In parallel, we continue booking venues interested in increasing their access to people who are or have been homeless. We will be training galleries via the Tate Plus network and are in conversations with Medway to deliver in person training to their venues’ staff and city officials. This work intersects with our co-production training (a broader set of workshops available to practitioners, arts organisations and policy makers) and our civic plan framework which was already been adapted in Coventry and being adapted in Haringey.
Every step of the way the co-creators/ Associates are involved: planning meetings with us, sitting on interview panels and conferences. The baton is being passed and each and everyone of them is enacting change in their communities and beyond. We are honoured to be part of their path.
“The whole process felt like it had a lot of integrity and a truly co-produced outcome. I personally learnt lots from everyone and hope they picked up some tips from me. I really look forward to working together again.” – Simon
“I would now happily try to snare a job with them in the future in whatever shape that maybe.” Bengy