“We set up a photography workshop in the canteen,” says Marice Cumber, the festival’s former director. “Hostels don’t tend to be particularly joyful places, but I witnessed something wonderful happen. The workshops generated a great atmosphere, and I saw how empowering it was for the residents.”
Inspired to develop the collaboration further, Marice founded Accumulate, an organisation that now runs creative workshops for seven hostels across London. The sessions are often held at high-profile locations, including Tate Modern and Somerset House, and help people affected by homelessness to learn new skills, become part of a community, and boost their self-confidence.
“If you’re in a negative environment, it’s hard to engage with turning your life around,” says Marice. “The workshops are something the participants can look forward to every week, and experiencing a positive situation encourages a more positive outlook.”
Accumulate’s programme covers film-making, creative writing, photography, illustration, textile printing and jewellery, and serves around 100 people a year, which includes asylum-seekers and victims of torture. Using renowned institutions to host the sessions helps to emphasise how creativity and culture should not just be a preserve for the privileged.
“We work with places like the BBC, the V&A Museum and the Saatchi Gallery,” Marice says. “Accumulate enables a marginalised group to use and enjoy these cultural resources, and to understand that they are open to all.”
Alongside these prestigious institutions, Accumulate hosts workshops at Ravensbourne University London, in the south-east of London. With the lecturers providing tuition, and the students also helping out, it’s another way of delivering opportunities to those who would not ordinarily get such chances.
“It breaks down significant barriers,” Marice explains. “Ravensbourne has an incredibly diverse student base, so our participants get to see and meet people at university who are like them. It’s really good to make friends through shared interests and not just shared circumstances.”
So successful has the partnership been, that Accumulate has secured some corporate funding to award several scholarships for their participants to take a one-year diploma course in creative and digital media.
“Somebody living in a hostel is unlikely to go to university, and obviously one big reason is fees,” says Marice. “Our Ravensbourne scholarship means they don’t have to pay, and going to university is a great step towards improving their lives.”
Accumulate are keen to hear from anyone who is interested in helping out in some way, or has an idea about collaboration, or just wants to find out more. Get in contact at accumulate.org.uk
By Theo Hooper