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Photography and arts course exhibits work of those affected by homelessness

12th April 2019

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A creative skills course is hoping to engage people affected by homelessness at a London university.

The Accumulate course, taking place at Ravensbourne University in North Greenwich, is using creative writing, podcasting, photography, fashion, poetry and sculpture to increase confidence and offer a creative outlet for its participants.

Shianne Louise Wright, 2019

Altan Dilan, 2019

Funded by the youth homelessness charity Accumulate, which also offers scholarships for young people to study creative subjects at college and/or university, the course takes place over two months and up to 15 sessions. When I visit, participants are using spoken word poetry to reflect on their own lives, and to think about wider concepts of youth and what it can mean to different people.


Big questions are being addressed: how does the youth of the past connect with the youth of the future? Why are young people increasingly pulling away from set structures, for example religion? How are young people's perceptions of being young different, depending on where they're from in the world? Are we expecting more from life than we might have in the past? Ravensbourne tutor Joanna is teaching the programme today, and is aiming to address the above questions through poetry and creative writing.

Crystal Alleyne, The Next Generation, 2019

Frank Twahirwa, 2019

Joanna asks participants to think about music that they listened to when they were younger, to picture themselves at the time or in the place that they when they were listening to the song, and to reflect on that moment. Suggestions include Michael Jackson (in the immediate aftermath of Leaving Neverland - ouch) and Metallica.


Participant Imani, who has her own poetry blog, is struggling to get her feelings onto the page.


"How can you put it into words?" she asks. "Music just makes me feel."


I tell her to write that down, and ask what its effect on her feels like.


"Just... good inside."


I suggest that the music makes her feel content, which she agrees with.

Imani Caprice, Friday Feeling, 2019

Imani Caprice, Lost In Thought, 2019

Oooh from my deep 4 C’s

The width of my lips, nose, forehead,

The deep night tone covering my skin,

I feel so free,

Although I know I ain’t

It’s a sin to be a free black woman,

Even if it’s portrayed that

We be proud of our melania.


This part of the session is centred on Zimbabwean spoken word poet Belinda Zhawi's reflection on Dalston community music venue Passing Clouds, which closed in 2016 and which Zhawi says "Called to me like the dream of a place that I'd never been, but missed." Participants split off into groups to discuss the visual nature of the poem, and how that relates to the photography that they've also been studying.

The poem stirs something in one of the participants, a middle-aged Nigerian woman named Helen, who recalls her teenage years, sneaking out, entering dancing competitions, singing in nightclubs, dancing, drinking and talking to men: "That is my own time."


Joanna asks the group to reflect on how these memories fit into them as part of a group; as a collective part of youth culture - and as part of a larger whole.

Helen Agha, Shadow, 2019

Denis Lasarer, Lonely Traffic Light Looking for a Friend in a Rushing World, 2019

Students are a mixture of those seeking asylum and those living in London hostels, and most do not have English as a first language - instead, native languages represented include French, Somali, Arabic, Turkish, English, Nigerian, Congolese, Creole, Farsi, and Baoule (the language of the Ivory Coast). The mixture of voices offer perspective that ranges from Nigerian nightclubs, to Turkey, to the Caribbean. Often in living situations that can be isolating, and often far from traditional concepts of home or family, the Accumulate course offers participants the opportunity to communicate openly. Often, those from the same hostels will stick together.


Accumulate's partnership with Ravensbourne allows university tutors to teach on the course, and also allows access to the university's facilities, in the heart of London's newest digital community, in the shadow of the 02 Arena. The area is described as "the capital's fast-growing media and technology hub." Ravensbourne, a fledgling university by most standards, was administered by the University of the Arts London until being granted full university status last year. Now, it grants degrees in areas as diverse as architecture, advertising and branding, and digital television technology.


Ravensbourne students are involved in running the course too - Tiana Lea, who is a team manager and is here today, is a second year photography student and is hoping to take on freelance photography and youth work once she's finished university. Here, she helps out with getting course materials together, assists with students, and looks after admin. The course is part of an elective unit that she's taking, and it's the second year that she's been involved. She's always done voluntary work, she says, so this fits in well.

Imani Caprice, Blue, 2019

Prosper Kouaytep, Beyond a Simple Attitude, Life is a State of Mind, 2019

Rhea Peters, Clarity of Vision, 2019

The course is free, has no application process, and can be attended by anyone. Its self-selecting nature, Accumulate’s founder Marice Cumber tells me, means that when students arrive they are already prepared to engage.


Clearly it’s a big commitment, especially alongside the many other things that the participants have going on in their lives - when working on photography, they were required to attend every day. Sometimes, though, the course can act as a welcome distraction from other things that are going on. Koffi, who has been in the UK for three and a half years, has in the past few days had a positive decision from the Home Office - he can stay in the country. The government has 14 days to appeal the decision, and he's hoping that they won't - but in the meantime, "I have the opportunity to improve (my skills) and enjoy the project."

Koffi Serge Pacome Nguessan, Blue Youth, 2019

Helen Agha, Sky Deep Concentration, 2019

Matthew Fabiyi, Escape Pods to Planet Z, 2019

After the course is completed, participants can apply to a Higher Education access course in order to be admitted to Ravensbourne as students. It’s something that has led students on to become undergraduate students at Ravensbourne in the past, and is something that is encouraged.


The course is designed to utilise creativity as both a social good and a means of therapy and the actual creative output is not the aim, Marice says - although it is being showcased, with an exhibition that’s taking place in Shoreditch this week. It’s the fifth year that Accumulate students have staged an exhibition, and this one, taking place in April, is a culmination of the charity’s longest creative course and is the biggest event of the year.


The exhibition marks the end of the course for these participants, but Accumulate’s work in this area is not done. The charity’s next project is also an exciting one - a radio station, run by those affected by homelessness. The six-month project will run from June to December, and is taking place because, Marice says, "Homeless programmes are always made by non-homeless. Why are people who are affected by it not the ones in control?" Accumulate is facilitating the project, she says, but the radio station will belong to the participants, and her aim is to enlist 40 of them, who will take on tasks ranging from social media, blogging and presenting to working on budgets and coordinating behind the scenes. It’s the first project of its kind in the UK.


Back to now, and the participants are finishing their creative writing session. Imani appears with a sculpture she’s made previously; a mannequin painted with words that she wants to finish in time for the exhibition. I have no doubt that she will.



For 30 years Autograph has engaged with diverse groups and communities to explore issues of identity, representation, social justice and human rights through photography and film.

At the gallery and in the community, Autograph creates welcoming spaces for people to share experiences, make artwork and become inspired by contemporary photography.

Youth Culture: An Exhibition by Accumulate is taking place at Autograph, Rivington Place, London EC2A 3BA, 10th - 13th April. Find out about the exhibition here.

Find out more about Accumulate or watch a 16-minute YouTube film that sees 2018 Accumulate participants discussing their photography.

Lead image: Frank Twahirwa, The Girls, 2019

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