Manchester Histories Festival

The Homeless Library

Monday 30 January 2017

"You need to get this down right. Put down how people feel deep down. The real stuff. Why they live and how they live. Put down the reasons they went onto the street. You've got to pick out the best stories to tell this. Pick the truth, learn to hear the truth..."

(Homeless Library contributor "A")

Homeless Library_Now Times Have Altered

Homeless people in Greater Manchester and Stockport have handmade the first history of British homelessness. The The Homeless Library debuted at the Houses of Parliament in May 2016 and went on public exhibition at the Southbank Festival of Love last September, and it is now coming to Manchester Central Library in the Archives+ Exhibition space from 31 Jan — 31 Mar 2017 with a special launch event at 3pm on 31 January. All are welcome. 

Homeless Library_Lawrence and his book Homeless Library_Steve

The Homeless Library was devised by arts organisation arthur+martha. Many homeless people live and die as ‘invisibles’. When they die their very existence sometimes leaves no mark. This project opens an untold chronicle, that exists off the pages of official history books. Instead, it is a history based on conversations: people's descriptions of their own lives, as told by contemporary homeless people and also older people who witnessed homelessness from the 1930s onwards. 

Along with interviews, there are artworks and poems. Many people involved found that these discussions and making the artworks and poems were a transformative experience:

"It's put me back on the ladder to life." 

(Danny, Homeless Library Contributor)

Each book in the Library is handmade - often recycling secondhand books, which were customised and handwritten. Recycled secondhand books make the point that homeless history has been crowded out by other voices.

Homeless Library_Genuine Workers     Homeless Library_Spare a Penny     Homeless Library_A Smile

The Homeless Library is supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund and partnered with The Booth Centre, The Wellspring, and Bury Art Museum. Alongside photos of the handwritten books, you can read the interviews at The Homeless Library page on Facebook

"Homelessness is like a foreign country. It's like being dropped into the middle of nowhere. The first thing you need is somewhere safe, not just dry but a safe place most of all. Then food, dry clothes. Then you need to get a shower. Then try to get to know all the organisations that will help you because they're going to be your best friends..."

Homeless Library contributor B 

arthur+martha CIC 


Portraits courtesy Paul Jones all other images courtesy The Homeless Library 

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