Museum of Homelessness Year in Review 2021 and Plans for the Future
by Matt and Jess Turtle, cofounders of MoH
In 2021, Museum of Homelessness community and board wrote a new strategic plan for 2022 – 2025.
Yes, we know, it’s ambitious given external events. But being flexible and adaptable has been a fact of life these last two years. So our plan allows for us to respond to whatever might come in the period. We are a small, independent charity and we are lucky to have funders who support us when we need to pivot and respond to new threats to the community.
How the plan was made
What’s more, people with experience of homelessness and people who are currently homeless decide what’s important for Museum of Homelessness to do. Having a written down plan developed together helps us make sure we are staying true to that and developing work that the community actually needs. This happens in a few ways. Firstly, our Core Group work on strategy for the charity. Our Core Group are people with experience of or currently experiencing homelessness who occupy an important role steering MoH’s development. We are all also working in solidarity year-round with a wide pool of people currently experiencing homelessness and poverty. These relationships are less formal, but let’s call this group of people MoH creative and justice associates.
When our associates identify an issue at street level, in emergency accommodation or for people housed by the Home Office for example, MoH responds offering resources and a response. It is also an opportunity to do what a museum does and this year we collected objects and stories that tell people about what has happened in the pandemic. The creativity and the work on the ground is not separate and are closely linked. The learning from our associates is also built into what the charity prioritises for funding bids etc.
So the new 3 year plan has been written by our Core Group, in collaboration with our Board of Trustees and is informed by learning from our associates about what the current issues are. We are so grateful for this incredible collaborative work from everyone. The plan outlines four ‘strands’ of work for MoH in the next 3 years, based upon what we think may happen, what we have been doing and what’s been of value to the community.
What are the key goals of Museum of Homelessness strategic plan?
The headlines of the plan are:
People with experience of homelessness lead Museum of Homelessness to make change in four ways;
- Educating on homelessness through our artistic work and public programme,
- Taking practical action and providing direct support in the community,
- Fighting injustice through research and campaigning
- Building the national collection for homelessness to make tomorrow’s history.
What Museum of Homelessness did in 2021
Looking back at a Year in Review, it’s quite clear how these priorities have been developed, based upon the activity of a year when we flexed and responded as necessary.
We responded to the lockdown with practical action. We were out on the streets covering the winter lockdown and getting essential supplies to people living outside during the lockdown. Cardboard ran out on the streets and essentials were in short supply.
We also fought injustice. We published the findings of the Dying Homeless Project for 2020, documenting a 37% increase in recorded deaths, from our 2019 study. The community installed temporary memorials in Trafalgar Square and St Martin-in-the-Fields to remember people we lost.
We also challenged hosings and assertive enforcement in the West End during lockdown, working in collaboration with Martin Burns and Liberty. This is a justice collaboration that has continued throughout the year, monitoring and challenging practices at street level from councils, police and private security that make life harder for our community.
In March we were delighted to win the Calouste Gulbenkian Award for Civic Arts organisations for our campaigning and direct action in the pandemic.
In April we responded to vaccine hesitancy and health inequalities in our community with practical action. Working with grassroots partners in the HomelessTaskforce, led by Rachel at Street Storage and Gary at Streets Kitchen, we piloted a street level vaccine clinic with aftercare built in in Camden and Westminster.
In Spring 2021, we also became an employer, with community written terms and conditions of employment. We are proud to have a flat pay structure at the national average wage, higher than London Living wage – £32,000 pa or freelance equivalent. 2021 was a transition year as we moved over to the flat pay structure and any new contract including the museum’s leadership now includes pay set at this equitable structure.
We began planning to educate on homelessness in the pandemic. We started our creative development for what would become Secret Museum onsite at Showerbox in St Giles in the Fields. We chatted to people, and began to gather the important messages that need to be shared about what has really happened in the pandemic.
As the summer progressed, we learnt that some homeless EU citizens were struggling to apply for Settled Status before the end of June deadline. We set up a street clinic with Public Interest Law Centre and Streets Kitchen, right next door to people’s sleep sites so it was as accessible as possible. Over the summer we were able to offer support to about 40 people, most of whom were from the rough sleeping Roma community.
With funding from National Lottery Heritage Fund we began the object hunting process to add to our national collection for homelessness representing the pandemic. We took objects and interviews with people who are homeless, medical professionals and grassroots organisers.
We commissioned two artists, Jacob V Joyce and gobscure to work on new art pieces that document heritages of Black, ethnically diverse, disabled, queer, neurodivergent, homeless and poor people in the pandemic. These are MoH’s first artist commissions and were funded by NLHF. We will share the pieces in 2022, it’s been incredible working with both artists over the year.
We strengthened our board of trustees, with the incredible Aderonke Apata, Rachael Minott, Stephanie Grohmann and Martha Spurrier joining as trustees. As new faces joined, others departed. We said goodbye to founding trustee Richard Matthews who has been with us since the start of MoH, we also said goodbye to Fr Pip Bevan whose immense experience and wisdom have been so important to us in the last few years.
We developed and delivered Secret Museum, an 11 day immersive experience that made Time Out’s Top Ten things to do in London. Audiences were invited to follow clues to find a secret location where we had the 12 precious objects held. The clues were designed as ‘echoes’ of the objects – pink flamingoes chalked into the pavement, bubbles blown by volunteers, fragments of a song from an album given to the collection. Once at the Secret Museum the audience heard some of the stories of the objects in the collection. Secret Museum was fully booked almost immediately and was a wonderful collective experience, a space to process things, in the midst of a very difficult couple of years. Most importantly it was a space that our community created, from start to finish something to be proud of and to show how we adapt, survive and take care of each other.
During Autumn we also continued our work with the Dying Homeless Coalition, strengthening ties with legal colleagues working to challenge preventable deaths in Greater Manchester. We co-published a guide to the Inquest system for bereaved families and have been supporting bereaved parents.
We continued with a year’s worth of research into racism and xenophobia in homelessness, funded by the Isla Foundation. This includes looking at how the far right use homelessness to encourage hatred and how government policy is linked to everyday racism. This work has been carried out for MoH by Miranda Keast and Samir Jeraj who have done an amazing job. We will share more in 2022.
The year was rounded off with our creative associate Paul Atherton holding a fundraiser for MoH at the premiere of a new short film made by Paul and Owen Aistles – ‘90 Days of Hope, Why Britain Chose Not to End Homelessness.’ It means a lot when community members fundraise for MoH, it happens often and always means so much.
So we round off 2021 in the midst of rising Omicron cases, confusing communications, fears about winter provision and draconian legislation going through parliament. There is no doubt that the situation does feel uncertain and, in some moments, downright bleak. But what we know is that our community of grassroots organisers and people experiencing homelessness knows how to fight, how to take care of each other and not only how to survive, but how to creatively resist and find joy together. The last 20 months have taught us that and our new plan is based upon that way of being together. Taking practical action, creatively educating, fighting injustice and shaping tomorrow’s history. This is, we reckon, a recipe that we can all rely on, whatever comes next.
We are so grateful to all who have contributed to this recipe in 2021. It is our honour and privilege to work and be alongside you all. We are hugely thankful for our funders and supporters who believe in us and make it possible for us to do this work.
We have been privileged in the last few years to share space with The Outside Project, our incredible friends and partners who have been so generous offering us desk space and companionship. 2022 is set to be the year that we build on this and finally move into a building of our own, so watch this space for updates!
Love and Solidarity
Jess and Matt Turtle X