Sheffield university students have teamed up with city homeless people to create a book that aims to give homeless people a voice to tell their stories.
Hallam University BA creative writing student Liam Rodgers set up a group called UpScribe, which has been working with users of a well-known Sheffield homeless charity, Cathedral Archer Project, to produce a book of creative writing.
Lights Through the Shadow features poetry, short stories and life stories, from several participants who regularly attend the Cathedral Archer Project for support with housing, legal and health issues.
The book was launched last week with a public reading at the Showroom cinema cafe. Sales of the book will go towards raising money to keep the project going.
Liam Rodgers has first-hand experience of being homeless and so was keen to set up a project to help other people coping with the same problems.
He said: “The book showcases the hard work of the participants and aims to encourage other people from varying walks of life to take up writing to improve their confidence and engagement with the community, with the aim of potentially breaking into publishing.”
Jade Hearsum, who works for the Archer Project, is a former Hallam University student. She said: “I went to a volunteer fair at Hallam University and met Liam and heard about UpScribe, which works with disadvantaged groups to give them a voice.
“They got some funding from Hallam and students and lecturers from the University of Sheffield were also involved.
“They came into the Archer Project for 12 weeks on Tuesday afternoons and were encouraging people we work with to be creative.
“They have written about their childhoods and poems and children’s stories and whatever they wanted to write. It’s a good way of expressing themselves and being creative.
“They then chose two or three pieces they liked each to go into the book.”
Members of the group decided that they wanted the chance to read their work in public, which is what led to the idea of a book launch.
Danielle, one of the participants, said: “Writing helps get my feelings and stress out without making me feel wicked or judged and takes me to a place where being a no-one is okay.
“Hopefully I can help people understand there is more to me and my opinion on the world.”
Jade said: “I think this is amazing and sums up why we did the project and what we want to get from it as well.”
She said that eight people took part in the project, talking quite openly about their situations and how they became homeless.
Robert is one of the writers who took part in the group. He said: “It was brilliant. Stuff I never would have thought of doing before, like personification.
“You had to pick an item that was in your room and basically talk through that item, so that it came alive.
“Mine was a coat hanger which suddenly became Mr Coat Hanger and he would hang there all day waiting for me to turn back up at teatime to put my coat on him.
“He could then relax and watch a quiz programme with me.
“The tutors gave you a different task each week, including writing memories of when you were younger and writing fictional stories. One week you just had to make up a story at random and we wrote poems, rhymes and prayers, a bit of all sorts.”
He added: “One memory is of when I was seven years old and set fire to a hospital. It’s in the book!”
Robert said he got a lot out of the sessions. “At the beginning it was just another activity, which we’d done before. Then when you realise it’s going into a book it still didn’t really mean a lot. You thing ‘we’ve heard it all before’.
“Then we got an actual book launch date and you think. ‘It’s actually going to be a book!’ It’s real, so it’s exciting now.”
He’s continued writing and has had pieces published in The Big Issue.
Robert wrote about his background for the book. He said: “I am enjoying my life as best I can and trying to stay happy. I was arrested for drunk-driving and lost my licence and my job, my house and my mind. Laugh out loud!
“Found my mind. Ex-wife has the house with our kids so that is okay. Kids are okay.”
Danielle said: “Usually I have trouble writing stuff down. I have dyslexia so I’ve only actually been able to invent some little things in my head.”
She added: “You got to learn stuff about people who came into the class. You got to learn stuff about someone’s home town and stories and stuff. You think, ‘you went through a hell of a lot’ and got to understand people in different ways.
“I’ve done a couple of poems. One was about my kids and how they keep me wanting to fight and carry on. One was about my fight with depression. A couple of people said that’s not nice. It’s my way of putting into text how I fight depression every day.
“There’s also a love one. Usually I don’t do that emotional lovey stuff. It was about how I started fancying this one guy. I got it out of my system. In the poem I go to tell him and end up having one of my panic attacks. It’s just the idea of telling him.”
Danielle said she started going to the Archer Project two years ago when she ended up living on the streets to get away from a difficult situation.
Both she and Robert now volunteer at the Archer Project as well as using its services. She said: “They’ve helped me so much. Anything I can do to help out and share my knowledge about the system with other people to give them a little assistance I will do.”
She added: “People don’t realise that some people choose to be homeless and some don’t. Some struggle with something in their past and end up drinking and not paying their rent and end up homeless. You don’t choose to do that purposely to yourself. People don’t realise there is some serious trauma there.”
To get a copy of the book, which costs £10, contact the Archer Project, The Archer Project or visit UpScribe on Facebook.