Gardening in Leeds

Leeds Museums and Galleries

Gabrielle Hamilton, 15.10.2012
As part of an audience development programme in 2007 and 2008, the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre embarked on a project in partnership with Holdforth Court homeless hostel run by St Anne’s Community Services and Stretch, an independent charity with experience of engaging people from disadvantaged backgrounds with the heritage sector.

The project involved recording the personal testimony of three hostel residents and their experiences of being homeless in Leeds. Each one was given a camera to record their own images of people and locations that had a personal resonance for them (in either a positive or negative way) followed by one-to-one interviews and discussions on issues around homelessness.

The residents were actively involved in the creative process of filming and editing the DVD, which helped to develop their own skills and self-confidence, and contributed to the positive relationship with museum staff.

The video was shown on the Leeds City Museum website and My Yorkshire, where it is still available.
Feedback from the project highlighted the positive experience it had been for the three residents; Michael felt “privileged” to have handled objects like the piece of meteorite that linked to his passion for astronomy while Alexis found the visits a real “eye opener” and “mind blowing”.

Longer term, they felt it had been an opportunity to be involved in something that they believed would normally be denied to them.

It also gave them a chance to tell their stories from their own perspective and demonstrate that (despite the labels of drug addict or problem drinker that are usually ascribed to them) they could show their interest in history, culture and the arts.

The project also introduced other hostel residents to new learning opportunities through a series of six workshops and tours of the Discovery Centre’s store, based on their interests/hobbies. These led to other community homeless groups such as Multiple Choice and Foundation Housing accessing the museum service.

The project was successful and resulted in two other pieces of work, including one with St George’s Crypt, another homeless charity, carried out as part of the 2009 Faith in the City exhibition.

In 2010, we also did a follow up with Holdforth Court on its gardening/growing scheme for A Greener City.  

But maintaining relationships has proved more difficult due to the current funding climate where the length of hostel stays has been reduced and there is much more emphasis on residents moving on and job searching rather than developing “soft skills” and new learning.

It has also been difficult to follow through with residents due to their transient and sometimes chaotic lifestyles – with issues around time keeping, reliability and commitment.

This meant that the involvement and support of the hostel key workers in the planning stages and delivery was a crucial part of the process and was well worth the initial investment of time and resources.

Gabrielle Hamilton is a curator of community history at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre