The new Making Tracks exhibition is showing how art therapy can help homeless people deal with the issues they face. Reporter LUKE SPROULE headed along to Crisis Skylight Oxford to find out more about the scheme For someone who is homeless, finding somewhere safe to live is just one of the challenges they face on a daily basis.
A lack of qualifications, mental health problems, damaged confidence and social isolation are among the obstacles preventing them from living a more stable life.
There is no quick fix and no single solution to any of these problems, but at the Crisis Skylight centre at Oxford’s Old Fire Station a group of people who are homeless or have been in the past have been taking art classes to boost their confidence and build up vital life skills.
Known as Junction 40, the group is now showcasing their work in an exhibition called Making Tracks.
It explores the journeys the artists have gone on during their lives. Interactive features throughout the gallery challenge visitors to think about their own journey through life.
Marianne Boyce, 42, has experienced homelessness in the past and has been painting, sewing, embroidering and drawing for eight years.
She said taking part in the art classes at Crisis had helped her deal with mental health problems.
Rebuilding lives: Codi Tuppence whose work features in the exhibition
She said: “It is a long recovery from mental illness and art really helps you to engage with life. Mental illness is still in your life but at the same time you have a life and you have to live it.
“I have dyslexia, so when I’m at home I can’t just sit and read. I need something to do with my time and art is perfect, it gives me something to focus on and do with my day.
“I started doing art because I needed to do something that was about me and that would encourage me to make the most of my ideas. At first I was frustrated by it and I thought it wasn’t for me, but working with people here at Crisis made me realise how great it was. It is something I needed and something I was ready for.”
Visual arts tutor Lucy Proctor, who has taught art therapy for 24 years, worked with the group throughout the project.
She said: “We work on the project as a group and we spend the first 12 weeks looking at different artists and everyone decided what they want to work on. Then in the second half, we pull together different ideas and decide what the final project will look like.
“The experience of presenting your ideas, arguing a point and negotiating with others helps set people up for integrating back into society and getting a job.
“Artists can also learn practical skills, like carpentry or joinery when they’re working on sculptures, and obviously those are skills which translate into the workplace.
“For some people, it’s the only way to really express themselves and say what they’re really thinking.
“Everyone here has been on a journey and the exhibition allows them to think about that journey and raise awareness about homelessness.”
Sarah – who did not give her surname and who was homeless – said her work represented the journey she is taking at Crisis and which was leading her to a better place.
She said: “Being at Crisis is about making a journey on so many levels, not just a physical journey. It has been a challenge for me to work as part of a group, and sometimes I felt too steered by the teachers, but I have overcome that and it has been such an incredibly valuable experience as a result.
“Since taking part in Making Tracks I have become much more free as an artist and I’m not restricted by a need to get things right any more.
“I have only been doing art for a year but I get great pleasure from working on my projects and a sense of satisfaction at the end of it all.”
Work on the Making Tracks exhibition is now finished, but art classes will continue at Crisis.
Jules – who also did not give a surname – contributed a piece of work based on train tracks. She said art allowed her to connect with her childhood while benefiting her in the present.
She said: “I have a real love of the natural world and many memories of childhood come from that, so I have used twigs, strung together with coloured cottons, to represent train tacks because travel has become very important in my life. I added in sycamore pods because they remind me of walks in the woods with my dad. It’s as if the ideas that crop up in my head are suddenly allowing the words I want to express to be released.
“It’s been so exciting working on the exhibition.
“I’ve never done anything like it before and I’ve learned a lot from working as a group in a stimulating environment. You don’t want to let anyone down and even if you’re having a really bad day, you make yourself go and you feel better for it.”
Making Tracks, Crisis Skylight centre at Oxford’s Old Fire Station, opened Saturday and will run until August 16
Visual arts tutor Lucy Proctor said art therapy can benefit people with a range of problems and challenges in life.
Guidance: Oxford Arts tutor, Emma Raynard, left, with visual arts tutor Lucy Proctor
She said: “The sort of group project we do allows people to get around a table and communicate with each other.
“They have to put forward their ideas for what they want the exhibition to be like and that builds interpersonal skills for someone who might never have been in that sort of situation before.”
The work can build up abilities that most take for granted in the workplace, such as pitching ideas and communicating with others.
And even the nature of art, with no focus on words, can help people figure out their emotions when discussing them may prove difficult.
Lucy said: “Some people might have difficulties reading or writing, or they may find it hard to express how they feel and deal with their emotions. Art therapy allows them to do that in a way that other therapies can’t.”
IN 2013/14 114 households in Oxford were accepted by the council as homeless, an 11 per cent increase on the year before.
Across Oxfordshire 311 households were classed as homeless, a 23 per cent rise over three years.
Four criteria have to be met before a council will accept someone as eligible for help due to being homeless. These are:
They be able to legally live and work in the UK
They must have a local connection to the area
They must be homeless through no fault of their own
They must have a ‘priority need’ such as pregnant or having dependent children
As a result of these requirements, there is a disparity between the number of people defined as homeless by the council and the number of people who have nowhere to live. Last year, Crisis Skylight Oxford worked with 857 homeless and vulnerably housed people.
Charity that offers new beginnings
Crisis Skylight Oxford is a national charity which has two main roles – providing services for people who are homeless or vulnerably housed, and campaigning to raise awareness of homelessness.
Crisis Skylight Oxford director Tamsin Jewell said the art classes running at the centre were a way of helping people who had been affected in homelessness in a variety of ways.
She explained: “We have people who come to the classes who have never properly sat down in a classroom, people who have never been told they’re good at anything and who have no qualifications.
“Some people can walk in here, get a qualification and walk out again and get a job.
“Other people just can’t do that for a variety of reasons and art is a route to helping them.”
She added: “We help people to rebuild their lives through engagement, education and employment.
“We have a range of educational opportunities for people who haven’t been in a classroom for years.
“We help them to set goals and find the stability to be able to go back into society.
“Our four goals for people who come here are: health and wellbeing, employment and financial security, housing stability and for them to develop positive relationships and social networks.”