Museums are not neutral. Museum activism should be based on listening, acting and delivering with our communities.
A case study from the Museum of Homelessness
COVID-19 is a huge risk to the homeless and vulnerably housed population who we work with daily.
In March, as museums closed their doors and the streets of London emptied, day centres, food banks, handouts and other homelessness services were cancelled en masse. Faced with silence from the authorities, we took action to save lives.
We repurposed all resources to campaign and directly support our community. Ahead of the government, we published a plan, later adopted as national strategy, to utilise empty hotel accommodation for homeless people. We successfully lobbied the Secretary of State to reopen the closed Mildmay Hospital and provide specialist Covid care for homeless people.
We worked with homelessness health teams, the government’s Rough Sleepers initiative, local partners and UK-wide grassroots groups. We formed the Covid-19 Homeless Taskforce, teaming up with Streets Kitchen, the Outside Project, Simon Community, Union Chapel, Greenpeace, Mutual Aid groups and many others.
With our cultural activity firmly on the back-burner, we borrowed a vacant council community centre to launch a seven-days-a-week operation, even repurposing our museum shelving for dried goods and cans.
All of this happened in three short weeks, and throughout the summer over 50 volunteers helped dispatch almost 9,000 meals to people in temporary accommodation and on the streets.
We continued lobbying and coordinated with the migrant rights sector to campaign (unsuccessfully) for the government to waive ‘no recourse to public funds’ rules. We also submitted evidence to select committees and worked with Liberty to challenge the coronavirus bill.
The council has since asked for their borrowed community centre back. But, with the pandemic continuing and a second wave looming, our activism continues. Until we get our own building, you can find us on the streets every Thursday at Highbury Corner, between 12 and 2.