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Exhibition tells story about life on the streets of Manchester

  • Date: 11 December 2012
  • Area: North
Stitched text on denim which reads 'WARM SMILE. LOOK AT MY TEETH'

Photo of quilt being made. Credit: Courtesy of arthur+martha

the/warm/&/the/cold is a project run by arts organisation  arthur+martha, led by poet Phil Davenport and artist Lois Blackburn, with support from our National Lottery funded Grants for the arts scheme. For the project, homeless people in Manchester have been telling their stories with needle and thread and embroidering the words onto a patchwork quilt which will be exhibited at Manchester's Holden Gallery until 18 December.

While developing the project, Phil Davenport and Lois Blackburn have spent many months working with the homeless community in Manchester, alongside students from Manchester Metropolitan University.

Poet Phil Davenport said: 'The quilt was created by asking simple questions which don't have simple answers. When were you warm? When were you cold? People talked about being physically cold, but also about emotional warmth and cold. Some of the stories were brutal, others funny, or angry - or wise. People outside society can often have great insight.'

The project was devised to help homeless people develop new life skills, socialise and build their confidence. Volunteer student helpers from the Embroidery Department at Manchester Metropolitan University helped to stitch the work and also made quilts in reply. Volunteers from the Women's Institute also lent their needles and expertise, embroidering the epic 9 feet by 12 feet patchwork poem. 

Artist Lois Blackburn said: 'Some of the students have put heart and soul into this - enthusiastic and very open-minded. Homelessness is a taboo, but it is likely to get more common in this time of economic hardship. We've met people from many walks of life and of many abilities. Often their family life has been disrupted and they spiral down from there. We hope that bringing students into the project will help promote acceptance of homeless people and wider understanding.'

As well as receiving support from our Grants for the arts scheme, the/warm/&/the/cold has also received funding from Bury Arts Service. It is partnered by The Booth Centre, The Big Issue in the North, BBC, Salford University Media Department and Manchester Metropolitan University Embroidery Department.

The project challenges stereotypes about homelessness, combating hate crime against homeless people and emphasising needs shared by us all - especially shelter and acceptance. arthur+martha use experimental writing techniques in their collaborations with marginalised people and the final pieces are often presented in public spaces and art galleries. This project is simultaneously an art exhibition and a sequence of text animations being shown by the BBC on Big Screens in Manchester and Liverpool. 

A long-running project diary describing this and other arthur+martha work with homeless people in Manchester - particularly at The Big Issue in the North office, The Booth Centre and The Red Door - is to be found at their blog.