The right time, the right place...

With One Voice Director Matt Peacock explains why Manchester is the perfect place to host the inaugural International Arts and Homelessness Summit & Festival

“I always arrive into Manchester the same way – stepping off the train at Piccadilly Station, leaving by the main exit where the road funnels passengers down into the heart of the city past high street shops, criss-crossing tram lines, to the open space of Piccadilly Gardens.

Over the last decade it has been a sobering experience since this is the stretch of Manchester where most of the people who are sleeping on the streets congregate. As in many cities, not everyone who is street homeless is begging and not everyone who is begging is homeless but the visible homeless situation is chronic.  

Street homelessness has steadily risen year on year, 1,100% since 2010 and more recently, the situation has become increasingly worse with a noticeable increase in drug use on the streets, predominately Spice. Addressing the homelessness situation is so urgently important for the region that it became Andy Burnham’s main election pledge when he was running for Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Fantastic work is already being done. Manchester can boast one of the most innovative homelessness strategies both nationally and internationally. And crucially, one where the voice of people who are or have been homeless is central to decision-making. The Manchester Homelessness Charter was set up in 2016 to create a collaborative and combined approach between all sectors, alongside people who are or have been homeless. A consultation was also recently announced on providing a bed for every person sleeping on the streets between November and March – and Greater Manchester was announced as a ‘Vanguard City’ by the Institute of Global Homelessness. 

And this is the context where social movement With One Voice is preparing the first ever International Arts and Homelessness Summit & Festival in November throughout Greater Manchester. 

The people of Manchester would be forgiven for thinking there are more pressing concerns than putting on a set of arts events. The question, ‘why arts?’ has often been asked when it comes to homelessness and other social issues – but perhaps it is even more vital to talk about this in Manchester when the homelessness situation is so severe.

To answer the question, it is interesting, first to reflect on the new homelessness strategy in Manchester which recognises in practice the widely accepted belief that homelessness is often the result of multiple issues coming together – poverty, employment, mental and physical health issues, relationship breakdowns, substance issues and more. The strategy argues that multiple issues call for multiple solutions with healthcare, housing, recovery, community building, investment in people’s well-being and self-esteem coming together to help people who are or have been homeless move forward more successfully long-term. Combining practical care with personal empowerment is key. Manchester and Greater Manchester will be the first authorities in the UK to integrate the arts into homelessness strategies – this is through With One Voice’s Jigsaw of Homelessness Support a model where interventions are like pieces of a jigsaw that come together to create a whole picture of support. It is a bold and important step for Manchester to recognise the power of arts and creativity in the homelessness sector. 

As well as this holistic approach, Greater Manchester is adopting a ‘whole-society’ approach where ever sector from the business, to faith and the culture sectors are coming together to help solve homelessness in the Charter through pledges. With this background, it could be said that Manchester is exactly the right place to hold the world’s first international gathering of arts and creative projects working with people who are or have been homeless.

And the cultural and homeless sectors have really stepped up to make this happen for the Summit & Festival between Monday 12 to Sunday 18 November. We will be releasing details of the brilliantly diverse programme of art and photography exhibitions, poetry projects, a public mural, and many more events.

The Festival culminates in a four-day Summit and conference at The Whitworth from 15-18 Nov where an estimated 300 delegates from at least 15 countries will assemble to discuss arts and homelessness around five main themes: Practice, Policy, Performance, Partnerships and People. We are committed to making this the first fully integrated homelessness event in history with 50% of delegate passes being given to people who are or have been homeless.

We estimate around 20,000 people will see an arts/homelessness project during the week, creating huge exposure for artists and creatives who are or have been homeless.

As with many events of this nature, we are putting a lot of energy into what happens afterwards. This cannot be a flash-in-the-pan and must result in lasting positive change. We will talk more about legacy and long-reaching impact in the coming weeks.

I will make many more walks from Piccadilly Station through Manchester in the lead up to and following the Summit & Festival this November. I am certain the homeless situation in general, including visible homelessness will improve as nowhere else in the world have I seen all elements of the city pull together to tackle homelessness. The cultural sector is standing by to do its part and I am confident that once the world sees how arts and creativity is part of the homelessness solution in Manchester – enriching the lives of people, building their well-being and voice – more cities and regions will follow suit.”

The With One Voice International Arts and Homelessness Summit & Festival takes place across Greater Manchester from 12-18 November. Tickets for all Festival events are free (full programme coming soon) and delegate passes can be purchased for the Summit (15-18 Nov) here. 50% of delegate passes will be given free to people who are or have been homeless – get in touch here for more info. With One Voice is an international arts and homelessness movement that seeks to connect and strengthen the sector worldwide and is produced by Streetwise Opera.