From Prison to Pavement – the title of a new programme of work and planned exhibition by Stretch Outsider Gallery in Margate highlights a huge crisis not just in Thanet but across the UK.
The response to a Freedom of Information request from Revolving Doors Agency last year revealed that between April and June 2018, 813 people released from prison went straight to rough sleeping, another 2,179 were registered as homeless ‘other,’ 1,844 went to ‘unsettled accommodation’ and the destination of a further 2,207 prison leavers was unknown.
A similar request for 2019 figures is still being processed.
Around 50 percent of prisoners in Kent have no accommodation to go to when they are released, and almost half of all rough sleepers in the county have a history of offending, according to information provided by east Kent councils during a successful bid to government for funding to try and prevent prisoner homelessness upon release.
The reality of this is being creatively expressed in the Prison to Pavement project which has been funded by the Arts Council England.
Cliftonville resident Dean Stalham (pictured above) is the chief curator and leading a series of workshops with artists who have had experience of homelessness.
Dean is an established playwright and his most recent ACE grants have been for successful play runs, but this is a return to the world of visual art where he has also made a name, as an artist but also as curator.
Dean discovered art in prison where his work won awards and acclaim – getting his name and artwork ‘over the fence.’ On leaving prison he founded his own organisation Art Saves Lives. He also worked for the national prison arts charity, the Koestler Foundation, alongside big names such as Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller and Grayson Perry.
Stretch director and former prisoner Carlotta Allum (pictured) first approached Dean on the back of his art connections and work. She said: “I saw a little BBC film about him and tweeted him, thinking this guy needs to come and work with me and Stretch.”
Carlotta delivers award winning digital storytelling projects in prisoners and hostels, giving people made vulnerable by society a chance to tell their story creatively, as well as trying to practice some painting when she has the time.
Stretch, Dean and Carlotta have been working with those on the streets in Thanet through Stretch, trying to highlight the links between homelessness and prison and also give underrepresented people a platform to express themselves artistically.
Carlotta said: “Thanet still has some of the poorest wards in the country and the homeless and crime problem is all around us, especially where we have been in The Centre and on the High street. One homeless man called John brought two pictures into the gallery about a month ago, still wet. They have caused quite a stir – we really like them – he is now coming back to take part in the workshops.”
Together they will oversee a collaboration with Porchlight, Ageless Thanet and Campaign Kent to use visual arts to help people express their stories in different ways.
Former prisoner artists will bring their own speciality to a series of workshops and the resulting art will be featured in The Margate School exhibition, exact dates to be confirmed but around the end of August. Dates will be announced on social media.
The programme will also include talks and public events.
The remit of Stretch Outsider Art Gallery is to champion artworks and art practices that sit outside the norms of the conventional art world.
Stretch is an arts charity that has been working predominantly in the criminal justice system for more than 15 years. The gallery showcases work made by non-formally trained artists, intuitive artists, people affected by mental illness, homelessness and the criminal justice system – or anyone who self-identifies as an ‘outsider’ of any sort.
The aim to provide an open and authentic space for celebration and meaningful dialogue around ‘Outsider’ practice. The gallery is run by Carlotta and Dean who are art crusaders, curators, writers and artists in their own right.
Carlotta said: “ The gallery was moved on from its home in The Centre in May and thanks to the fantastic support of the people of Margate we have been offered a temporary home in The Margate School building in the old Woolworths on the High Street in the centre of Margate.
“A fantastic building with lots of potential, The Margate School is overseeing the renovations but have allowed us to use their exhibition wall and host some workshops in the space.”
The Margate Art School is also hosting creative sessions at the Woolworths site.
On July 11-12 Ge Smit and Jereoen Tebbe, designers from the Netherlands, will be delivering a creativity workshop aimed at individual professionals, businesses and other organisations, to help them find new ideas related to their work.
It is a two day intensive course. Ge and Joreoen have delivered these workshops to hundreds of people across Europe and Asia. It is opportunity for individuals starting out in business of all kinds, as well as students, established businesses, charitable and public sector organisations in Margate, Thanet and East Kent to test and explore their business thinking and generate new ideas.
You can see more info about Ge’s work at www.g-o-d-online.nl and Margate Art School can be found on facebook. Register at Info@themargateschool.com
Dying on our streets
Shocking data released in February by the Office for National Statistics shows there have been 7 identified deaths of people who were sleeping rough in Thanet between 2013 and 2017. Estimates, meaning those who died on the street but may not have been registered as homeless, for the same period show eight deaths.
If you are concerned about someone who is rough sleeping you can notify streetlink at www.streetlink.org.uk
Call 24 hour free Porchlight phone helpline 0800 567 7699 or from a mobile on 0300 365 7699.
Wednesday 9.30am-12pm Margate Gateway
Tuesday 2pm-4pm GAP Baptist Church, Broadstairs
Report Carlotta Alum and Kathy Bailes