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Home and Belonging in Harlseden

People making objects in an art workshop
Home and Belonging workshop, Crisis, Brent.

"All these participants, hopefully they won’t be with us next year,’ says Gabriel Parfitt, Arts Co-ordinator at homeless charity Crisis, during a textile workshop. It’s an observation that strikes as odd until he continues: "We want them to be housed and in employment. Many of us have worked on formalised programmes before and you want those who start it to finish it but this is a very different way of running a project."

Home and Belonging is a bespoke arts programme for clients of Crisis Skylight Brent, with the aim of improving the well-being of the homeless and vulnerably-housed residents in the area. Harlesden in Brent is in the top 5% most deprived in the UK with housing insecurity a key issue and the second highest homelessness rate in London. A long-term resident and Programme Director of Jewellery and Textiles, Anne Marr has witnessed how recent developments in neighbouring Park Royal and Cross-Rail at Acton have had a local impact.

Through initial conversations with Crisis Skylight Brent in 2016, Marr found it had no arts provision for its clients and set about creating a collaborative project and securing funding through the Brent Council Voluntary Sector Initiative Fund. Home and Belonging was designed as a 12-week programme of workshops both to improve mental health but also offering a space for participants to respond to the changing nature of the neighbourhood.

Textiles was a perfect material fit. "Everyone has a connection with textiles," explains Marr, "it’s easy to begin manipulating and working with. People have instant connections but it has the potential to become really sophisticated. "Weekly workshops, delivered at Crisis Skylight Brent, were focused on ideas of mapping and expressing personal journeys but in terms of technique they moved quickly to encompass a wide variety from weaving and up-cycling to digital photography and heat-press transfer.

"The idea was to offer people different options of textiles. We thought people would dip in and out but they loved it so much we couldn’t get rid of them!" says Marr, "The clients returned again and again, and Crisis even kept the workshop open an extra day a week for participants to continue working on their projects."

Someone's hands holding netted material against a frame – making a chair

As the weeks went by, the room which had been sparse and magnolia initially became a palimpsest of colour and creativity with workshop developments pinned up, covering every inch of wall space. Activity didn’t stop at the Crisis centre either as pop-up shops took place in both Harlesden and Central Saint Martins building on a sense of social cohesion as well as public awareness.

"I didn’t have any genuine expectations. I had no idea. The very nature of our members at Crisis is that many have no art training whatsoever and I’m absolutely overjoyed that we produced something so great and I’ve been astonished how much impact it’s had."

The initial plan was for a two-year project that would set in motion a sustainable arts programme at the centre. Remarkably, with the combined dedication of Marr and Parfitt that happened before the first year was finished. The second year will bring a new cohort of participants as well as a new series of techniques and creative challenges for them to experiment with. ‘We are an art college and we want the workshop participants to be unafraid of expressing themselves. I hope we have given them carte blanche to be themselves.’

As the project reaches its half-way mark, Marr reflects on the impact not only of Home and Belonging on its participants but the importance of working beyond the walls of the College: “We need collaborators in order to be part of something bigger.”