London arts charity that helped Grenfell victims faces eviction

London arts charity that helped Grenfell victims faces eviction

“The project is currently in jeopardy. And I don’t use that word lightly,” says Parker. “If we don’t find a building, it could mean we won’t be able to function in the future.”

Grenfell Tower dominates the skyline from the window. Since the devastating fire in June 2017, this community, this borough of London, has been representative of the housing shortage in this country. Lives lost, ruined and jeopardized, safety compromised, profit prioritized. 240Project is on the front lines of the fight to help people caught in the political crossfire and stranded on the remnants of the social safety net. When the Grenfell fire tragedy struck, 240Project took renewed action to serve the community.

“We were a base to get supplies to the people,” says Parker. “And three of our members were directly impacted by being in the building at the time.”

I’m biased, but I think this is a wonderful place for people who don’t really fit into mainstream society, people on the fringes, to come

Simon Parker, Co-Lead, 240Project

We go to an adjoining room to continue talking with Parker, a playwright who leads the creative writing workshop and reading groups, and co-directs 240Project with comedian, writer, and illustrator Richard Todd. Todd comes out of the kitchen for a quick hello before returning to cook lunch (6,500 hot meals have been provided here for vulnerable people in the last 12 months alone). Everyone joins in. Today’s meal, we are told, includes broccoli. It smells good.

I Live in Paint by John Sheehy

“I’m biased, but I think this is a wonderful place where people who don’t really fit into mainstream society, people on the fringes, people who have been homeless or who have mental illness or are recovering from an addiction, be able to do this,” says Parker. “They are fed and we offer a range of activities. The reason for being is to build their confidence and show that there is something meaningful and valuable in the things they produce and say. It creates a space where they are allowed to express themselves – to the outside world, where they don’t really have a voice and don’t feel heard or sometimes even seen.”

Outside of this space, the artists working at 240Project also lack the cultural capital to move comfortably among other, more privileged artists. A recent visit to the Gagosian Gallery in Mayfair wasn’t as fun as it should have been.

Untitled by ZakiaUntitled by Zakia

“Coming in with a group of people that you wouldn’t normally see on the streets of Mayfair was the contrast of London’s worlds – getting those people past the Bentleys parked outside,” says Parker. “The initial shocked looks from people on the desk… I perversely enjoyed the contrast. The “fuck you” to the idea of ​​looking down on people.

“But when we came out three of our members said they felt really uncomfortable and unwelcome.”

The Big Issue has a longstanding association with 240Project. Not least because the artists who work here provide so many pieces for our street art sites. This works for everyone. We get vibrant, original artwork to share with readers, artists get a huge boost of confidence.

Stripes by Rene RobinsStripes by Rene Robins

Parker talks about 95-year-old Rene Robbins, who traveled more than an hour in three buses to get here. “Imagine traveling so far at that age. But she feels safe here, she knows the people, that shows her sense of community here. And she does amazing work. She had work on The Big Issue.”

“Seeing your name or likeness in a printed magazine is a really uplifting experience,” says Parker. “Once again, people who have no voice, no visibility, suddenly get a sense of self-worth, a sense of importance. That’s what they get paid for. And while the monetary value isn’t the most important thing, it does give something back to them.”

Zakia Choudhury collaborates on mosaics with regular colleague Carlton. “It’s a community. For locals. It gives me strength, takes away my stress and brings out all the beautiful things in me,” she says.

“We make so many creative things with little or nothing. When one of my works was featured in The Big Issue, I felt like I was floating in heaven. Another can be seen at the Queen’s Jubilee Exhibition throughout the year.”

Ethical Shopping

Empowering people who have experienced homelessness through photography and art.

There is a palpable positivity here. It’s easy to see why people who might be lonely, marginalized, feeling a little lost or in need of a boost choose 240Project as a friendly place where they feel at home to find community, inspiration and meaning.

Carlton has been coming here for 16 years. He jumps in with a giant London Bridge mosaic made out of found materials. His pride is obvious – and well placed. “I come to 240Project for therapy and to help people and to share the love of what I do,” he says. “Our work is about recycled goods. The wood is completely recycled, the mirrors are recycled. We find things on the street and use them. We share love, we share our experiences and we bounce off each other.”

Lui Saatchi with one of his cock pics at 240ProjectLui Saatchi with one of the rooster pictures he created for the 240Project

Lui Saatchi is a relative newcomer. He joined 240Project four years ago. “I started coming because of my mental health. I started taking music classes, then tried art classes and it turned out to be a pleasure. It’s a regular routine for me. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays I know I will wake up and come here and work on my art. It gave me purpose,” he says. “Today I am painting a rooster. About three years ago, 240Project took us on a feel-good journey to North London. I walked through the park and saw the zoo – there was a rooster. I painted it and sold it. So I made another one last year, which also sold. My second rooster was also in The Big Issue.”

Exhibiting and selling artworks is another way 240Project uses to build self-esteem, mental health and community engagement. “It gives me confidence when I sell one,” says Michael Crosswaite, another 240Project regular who has contributed to The Big Issue’s street art pages. He is currently painting a psychedelic landscape. From day one, Parker says, there was “a commitment to art as a path to a better way of life.”

John Sheehy at 240ProjectProlific artist John Sheehy at work in the 240Project

Art changed the life of John Sheehy. He is hard at work at his regulars’ table. Sheehy is a prolific artist and humble presence. She has experienced periods of homelessness and mental illness. However, since Sheehy found a creative outlet in 1999 thanks to encouragement from Big Issue, Sheehy’s skills have been recognized. He has exhibited at Somerset House, the British Museum, the Royal Academy and throughout Europe.

There’s real talent here. And it is cared for, nurtured and promoted. But what does the future bring?

“Starting May next year, we could be homeless ourselves,” says Parker. “And if the organization can’t reach out to the people who really need them — the marginalized, the lonely — like this space does, it would be a terrible shame. I don’t know of any other organization that provides all the things we do to a group of people who need that safe space and a place where they feel valued so much.

“It’s really urgent that we find a space, with or without the help of the community. Or if someone is super rich and wants to buy us a building, we’ll take that.”

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This article is from The Big Issue magazine, which aims to give the homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalized an opportunity to earn an income. To support our work, buy a copy! If you can’t reach your local retailer, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase single issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue App, available now on the App Store or Google Play.