For the past eighteen months I have been volunteering at the charity Catching Lives in Canterbury and have been heavily involved in a EU-funded literacy project with our homeless community. This written work is developing into our own illustrated children’s book series, with the first book ‘Harbledown Hope‘ due to be completed by the end of this year. Within this post I want to take the opportunity to pause and reflect on this work so far, to celebrate the talents of our community and to highlight what an amazing privilege volunteering here has been.
The story behind the story
For our homeless community it is undoubtedly the story behind the story that is one of the most compelling parts of this writing project. The opportunity to write offers a great sense of purpose and the chance to express and explore thoughts, feelings and emotions. It becomes an outlet for hurts and experiences to be channeled into something positive and productive. It helps break the often destructive cycles played out in lives.
The choice of a young urban fox, Harbledown, for the main character in our story has been a brilliant one. The often maligned, bullied, victimised, misunderstood plight of the fox is something that speaks powerfully to our community. Through him such personal experiences can be shared and explored. He can become our voice to challenge and raise questions in the minds of our readers.
Dispel the stereotypes
Within our community the desire to produce writing and illustrations of quality is strong, incredibly strong. This desire is fuelled by the determination to prove the doubters wrong, to expose the homeless stereotypes for what they are – false accusations and generalisations printed within tabloids with the sole aim of selling newspapers, polarising opinion. So let us be part of removing this veil! We all have something to offer, something to contribute and when you give the disadvantaged a voice, that voice speaks from a depth that few can comprehend. When it speaks from a place of such darkness, how it longs to soar toward the light.
Strip away so many of the distractions of life, the trappings and you have people of observation, acutely aware of their surroundings, seeing things that so many miss, observing the details of life, the daily changes of the seasons. These are not the ones who wake up one day and wonder where their summer has gone. These are people who spot where the litter has been left and how long before it is picked up, people that observe the interactions between man and beast, the individual characteristics of the swarming seagulls feasting on human waste and carelessness. What an amazing opportunity then to channel these observations onto the written page; for these are the details that lift story from reporting to rapport, from emptiness to empathy.
Beautiful words and art
There is such quality being produced by the people at Catching Lives and I am so excited at the prospect of that being released and revealed to the world. There is a great depth to the words being produced, some incredible poetry being written, some beautiful art work. It is so moving and humbling to see these talents open up before your eyes. It is as if you are watching someone rediscover a part of themselves, seeing them reconnect with their inherent desire to be creative, to contribute, to have purpose – awesome! The images below try to capture a flavour of some of this amazing work.
Writing with the wonderful people at Catching Lives has been one of the most positive and affirming experiences of my life. I remember back to that first morning volunteering when I walked through the doors with some trepidation, determined to leave the stereotypes at the door, to open my mind and heart to this community, but unsure as to how that would pan out. What a sheltered, middle class, naive background I have come from, but inside a great desire to break from those chains.
I came to Catching Lives with a shared sense of the pain of mental anguish, of hurts in my life, a knowledge that without the love and support of my parents, I could easily be where some of these dear friends are now. This gave me a huge desire to reach out, support, listen, care, smile, love. There is a huge motivation from my faith in Jesus, my desire to be where he would be if on earth right now, with the broken, hurting and lost. I so want to give something back, to share and grow my talents, to make a difference, to leave a legacy, to positively impact lives.
Thank you so much Catching Lives for giving me this opportunity and to all the dear people I have met and work with, thank you for continuing to share your lives, your experiences, your talents.