SP Creative Projects Lead, Adam Steiner, looks back on 5 months of food, fury and creative fun!
The Write & Eat meets Food Union project – a collaboration between The Pod, a Coventry City Council mental health community resource, and Silhouette Press – has now been running for 5 successful months. Following a series of summer creative writing pilots in 2013, we have worked alongside The Pod and an award-winning chef to cook healthy and affordable food that also tastes good and engaging new audiences in creative writing.
How Does It Work?
The set-up is simple: the free sessions are open to everyone and people come to The Pod mid-afternoon, where we utilize the training kitchen space where cook and then eat together in the welcome space of The Pod’s Revive Cafe. Everyone involved works from a series of themed recipes, such as Veggie Blitz, Valentine’s Day and Healthy Ready-Meals (after Jack Monroe) which means that a variety of food is on offer and people are encouraged to work together and pitch-in with other tasks such as washing-up or cleaning down the kitchen area.
Shortly before eating, I run a brief poetry workshop which often yielded interesting work as I encouraged people to work around spur words from the recipes and to think about different aspects of the cooking.
Why Food Union?
The Pod project aims to work with members of the community to build their capacity and resilience in cooking healthy and tasty food on a budget.
The Pod recognised the growing pressure of welfare reform changes upon everyone who is in receipt of benefits as the system gradually changes into the potentially confusing Universal Credit scheme – in particular the impact this is having upon the people they work with who often live with severe or enduring mental ill health. A strong emphasis is placed upon the sustainability of the food, we often work from a budget of £40 of locally-sourced ingredients, the majority of which is bought fresh from Coventry indoor market, and we feed on average 20-30 people (a cost of less than £2 per head).
The project has provided different people different benefits or opportunities: some people wished to expand their cooking skills by producing cost-effective food that they can produce en-masse and store as an alternative to unhealthy and over-priced ready-meals; others simply attend to enjoy a sociable cooking environment or learn more about writing poetry from challenging themes. Food Union is currently evolving to work more closely with local volunteers, universities and the community.
You can browse more of the individual session themes on the Write & Eat project page, here is a quick overview of some of the food and poetry produced so far:
We asked YOU – the readers, writers and artists of Here Comes Everyone – what the magazine needs, what’s it worth and what should it look like in the future?
Please see the results below and let us know what you think and if there’s anything we might’ve missed!
Thank you to everyone who voted in the project!
Stories tipped the balance here as our readers are clearly fond of a solid yarn and quality poetry. It was also heartening for publisher, Silhouette Press and the HCE crew to see that our themes are popular and are inspiring readers and contributors alike!
The magazine is increasingly receiving excellent submissions of artwork so we expect this figure (0%) to rise if only by the number of featured pieces!
This question begged of you to tell us where and how we’re going wrong (if at all) and where we might improve HCE inside and out. Interestingly, 20% voted for website improvements and after a year and a half we are keen to upgrade www.herecomeseveryone.me.
Other votes err on better production values, such as typos, design and a higher quality printed magazine. This really hits home on other Qs inthe survey, particulalry as so many literary magazines struggle to maintain a print run and exist purely as blog-based websites.
2013 has seen significant growth within the HCE publishing team, as everyone grows in experience and skills, we aim to make the magazine bette with every issue!
On the surface, this may seem like a rather frivilous point of enquiry, but as with many not-for-profits, Silhouette Press and HCE rely upon a diverse range of products to cover our costs, items we see more as (literal) badges of honour and trophies for our competition-winners.
Stationery has raised a few eyebrows, though it is encouraging to see how studious and old-school some of our contributors are! Great to see that our badges remain popular – look out for new designs very soon!
There also appear to be numerous caffeine addicts amongst you requiring chic beverage receptacles, as ever, we find ourselves in good company!
Please remember, you can order bespoke coloured SP and HCE T-shirts from our online shop!
This was interesting. We made a general point of uniting our readers and contributors, as the two are often bound together by themes – what’s the point in writing stories that no-one wants to read?!
The HCE team have previously opened up submission themes to votes. A few issues ago, both Blood and Water charted highly, here, not at all – perhaps people seek more concrete topics?
Regardless, people seem sick of War, the City and Gender appears done and dusted. Contra this, people remain be intruiged by Political comings and goings (scandal), Death (it lingers), the very open-ended notion of Transformation (thanks to Ben Nightingale for this one) and increasingly time has played upon people’s minds – be assured, these votes are duly noted so expect to see these themes appearing in one form or another in due course before the end of the world providing we are not hauled before Parliament .
This is always a thorny issue for low print-run, high cost, top quality art zines. How much is art worth, why should people fund it and who wants to read it?! HCE magazine currently retails for around £5, we believe this is reasonable, relative to the quality of contributions we recieve, the willing desire of SP to provide an alternative forum to the literary status quo and the fact that many of our contributors and readers are fervently loyal and ever-supportive (which you cannot really put a price upon).
However, in the interests of growing egality, there is a clear desire for HCE to be priced within the £3-4 bracket. This is great in terms of presenting us with a challenge to sell more copies, engage new audiences and promote our contributors as much as we can – a target comes into view.
Write & Eat is an ongoing Silhouette Press project that invites authors and other creative types to chat, craft and chow-down at The POD’s Revive Café in Coventry.
The project is constantly evolving and after hosting a successful Pecha Kucha 20×20 event of quickfire presentations on food banks, global poverty and cheese in 2013, January’s Write & Eat was all about Sugar and Spice.
Several citizens joined an award-winning chef to create a variety of dishes from rocky road to spicy Moroccan chicken and were able to feed a number of café visitors. The poetry workshop focussed upon taking inspiration from the ingredients and spices used in cooking as a launchpad for poetic ideas, from climbing for mangos, a child’s first taste of pepper to a heart of Jerusalem artichoke meeting Carol Ann Duffy’s infamous onion.
Write & Eat meets Food Union is a free event that is open to everyone to attend and get involved with cooking a variety of dishes and/or writing about different aspects of food on the monthly theme.
The next Write & Eat sessions will be held on 12/2/2014 (Red Winter) and 14/2/2014 (as part of Love Arts and Creativity Event) at the usual times of 2pm to start cooking, a poetry workshop at 4.30pm and finishing at 6.30pm.
Write & Eat is supported by Coventry City Council in cooperation with The Peapod Collective and The POD.
I often wondered what it would be like to work in a bookshop and on Monday, I did just that, heading the Here Comes Everyone takeover of fellow non-profit, The Tree House Bookshop of Kenilworth, WM.
George Orwell’s scathing critique of the trade, Bookshop Memories, had already prepared me for the worst: self-loathing, endless sitting and an inveitable hatred of the perfect-bound bundles of paper you are there to sell, but thankfully, only some of what he wrote holds true.
The Tree House Bookshop is a great big goldfish bowl of a place, with an entire wall of glass decorated with the Treehouse’s ace logo stencil and numerous community event posters, there’s even a pitch-perfect breakdown of the bookshop’s running costs, encouraging the natives to pitch in with donations fiscal or physical (all furniture and items in the shop are gratefully-recived gifts) or to volunteer their time to help keep the place running through the week. The shop has a strong community focus with lots of events going on and a micro-gallery upstairs.
The galss fascia makes the shop perfect for people-watching and ideal for wandering townsfolk to look in, blink at the warm, welcoming environment and then move on. The weather was a terrible but the location of the shop, next to a major car park in the town, made for consistent footfall and lots of people showed an interest, but never made it to the door.
All too often I traced the footsteps of the idle rubes, willing them to enter and at least say hello or browse through some pages – a busy shop is a happy one – as I sat there wretched in my herringbone cloak gripping an Introduction to Modernism. It doesn’t take long for the place to become a little lonely and I could see what Orwell meant about growing sick of the sight and smell of books in their rows of wooden graves all housing dead conversations. Entombed as I was by seemingly unsellable words and a relatively indfferent populace, I was a more than eager ear for the visitation of one Peter Pots, who runs a local interest website, Ken On the Web (midwarks.info).
It being Armistice Day, our conversation inevitably moved to the Second World War. Peter himself is from Prague originally and was evacuated to England in 1938 as political pressure intensified around Germany and Austria. As part of the local history society, he told me about the former Globe Hotel, which had been sited just across from the Treehouse on Abbey End.
Shortly after an intake of evacuees who were bombed out of their homes on 14/11/1940 in nearby Coventry, the Globe was hit a few days later on 21/11/1940 by a spare bomb off-loaded from a passing German bomber, it was a direct hit destroying half of the Globe Hotel.
A few sales later, my day was done amd the bookshop was kept open for another day. Would I go back? Certainly, bookshops need both sellers and buyers (readers) and there are plans afoot for another HCE takeover in the near future – I hope to see you there, I will do my best to smile.
The Tree House Bookshop
A non-profit secondhand bookshop and community hub in Kenilworth.
Find out more about the “bombing” of Kenilworth, here:
Today, I met several homeless people in Coventry to gauge interest in a future SP project. The classic question levelled at such ventures, usually from people who aren’t homeless themselves, is why would anyone living on the streets want to waste their time writing? Surely they have more important things on their mind; where there next meal is coming from, where they are going to sleep tonight?
This is undoubtedly true. However, some of the people I met were very keen and interested in telling their version of the realities of homeless life: being trapped in a cycle of deprivation and minor debts (amounts that would seem trivial to most people) that sees the homeless endlessly shuttled from council accommodation to sheltered housing and hostels, always on the lowest rungs of the property ladder. Homeless life sounds hard and that’s because it is.
The one thing most homeless people do have lots of is time. Most of us trudge restlessly through our gainful 9-5, from home to work and back again, unwilling to reflect on the alternative. There are few constructive outlets for homeless people beyond volunteering and every day is a genuine struggle to survive, especially as winter approaches.
For the majority of us, who have never been homeless, we harbour a great deal of misconceptions about what homeless life is really like, stigmas range from widespread drug or alcohol abuse, mental health issues and no desire to work: effectively self-inflicted destitution. These are elements of homelessness that apply to only a minority of homeless people I met.
The closest most of us ever get to learning about homelessness is often third-hand, either from the mainstream media (who exploit stats and are prone to demonise) and the memoirs of authors such as George Orwell who step in and out of homelessness as a social experiment, always able to return back to their “normal” life (The Big Issue provides a much needed antidote). As my SP colleague once pointed-out, as a society, we often choose not to see people sleeping rough, we expect little from them and rarely come into direct contact, this adds to the invisibility that hides the problem of homelessness.
Some homeless people I spoke to wanted the chance to explore the possibilities of poetry or create stories from scratch, but most wanted to talk, and to write, more about their lives, day-to-day, and provide a genuine account of how each homeless person has a different experience of falling into poverty, and how they begin their journey of recovery.
I was challenged on the “use” of both creative and factual writing, and, forced to think on my feet, admitted to the experimental nature of the project (particularly the fact it might not work at all), but I countered by saying that writing, in all its forms can be a rewarding form of self-expression and communicating one’s view of the world to others.
We all depend on words and improving your writing, and being able to write well can open-up many surprising doors and helps to make a person more employable. Lots of people who aren’t homeless enjoy sufficient financial and physical security to write as a purely creative endeavour, as a (sometimes) pleasurable end in itself – why shouldn’t homeless people be offered access to the same creative support? Many people assume that the answer will always be “No” and that homeless people have nothing to say. Like any experiment, this project will probably benefit some more than others, but who cares? It might some people to rebuild their self-confidence, spark a new relationship with writing and reading and encourage people who have already decided that they can’t write, and are not expected to, to have a go and try – whatever writing comes out of the project, I feel the work invested by participants will help to humanise homeless people, educate the public and turn the tide on a popular stigma and social exclusion.
Why creative writing for homeless people?
Well, why not?