The project aimed to prioritise the needs of LGBTIQ+ people with experience of homelessness, and both organisations were open to hearing the specific ways they could work with LGBTIQ+ people to provide an identity-responsive programme.
We worked with LGBTIQ+ facilitators, rather than trained or inclusive facilitators, to create an empowering space, with the leadership and structure of the session created by and for the particpants.
We also recruited two youth ambassadors, one from the Outside Project and one from Cardboard Citizens. Brendan Lyons, a longterm Citz Member, took the role of Citz Youth Ambassador, and has written about his experiences on the project…
Brendan Lyons writes:
This project has been very close to my heart. When I started my journey with Cardboard Citizens, I was a very keen advocate for the LGBTQI+ community and whilst I always felt that this was embraced within Act Now, to have a dedicated platform within which I could share my experiences as a queer person was something I’d been striving to achieve throughout my time here.
Watching Vicky Moran’s production of No Sweat highlighted to me just how important it is that our stories get told – as they often go untold within the wider narrative of homelessness. There is a large invisible population of homeless people within the LGBTQI+ community, and this is an issue that I feel is still unacknowledged by a lot of people and organisations working within the housing sector. There is still a lot of prejudice, ignorance and misinformation surrounding queer people’s experiences of homelessness. For example, the assumption that gay men can just ‘go to a sauna’ to get accommodation is one that was addressed in Vicky Moran’s play and shows how quickly a safe space can become unsafe when someone is left in a compromising position due to not having anywhere else to turn to.
In considering safe spaces, it was important that we not brush over the idea that these spaces can very quickly become unsafe for a whole host of reasons, and so we re-conceptualised our rehearsal space as a ‘brave space’ whereby people of mixed identities can feel brave to share and tell their stories. It helped us, as a delivery team, to bring to question our assumptions around holding a ‘safe space’ and not take it for granted that a space would be safe just because it is dedicated to a certain group of people.
No matter which way you look at it, group dynamics play a big part in determining how safe people feel within a dedicated space, and so a big part of my journey within the project was considering and adapting to the dynamics of our group as it was; not taking for granted the fact that it would facilitate a feeling of safety for everyone involved as that can very easily change depending on the mix of personalities within the group.
As a Youth Ambassador, I acted both as a participant and as a member of the delivery team, and this gave me a unique insight into the process that we were on together. Whilst I was on the journey with the participants, I also stayed in constant communication with the delivery team which helped us to shape the experience in a positive way, respond to the group dynamics and facilitate an empowering experience that enabled the stories that needed to be told to be told.
Being part of this project highlighted for me just how important dedicated spaces are for producing work which represents the experiences of a particular community, and also opened my eyes to the power of allyship in driving this work, as I feel that the main ingredient is empathy when it comes to delivering a project such as this. As I had previously found through working on the No Box No Label campaign: identifying as part of the community I am supporting is not so important as being willing to listen and be changed by the experience. Therefore I do not believe that exclusive spaces are necessary, nor do I believe that inclusive spaces are the answer to addressing inequality between communities. On this project, I simply beheld the power of support within a dedicated space which upheld and inspired members of the LGBTQI+ community to tell their stories through the process of devising theatre.
Moving forward, I would definitely like to lead on a project such as this, and would like to put this learning to use in conceptualising how I hold a space for participants who identify as LGBTQI+. Understanding that empathy, a clear vision and a dedicated space are the main three ingredients will serve me well on my journey as both a facilitator and director.
The Outside Project writes:
Throughout the project young people worked together to create a collaborative theatre piece. For many of them this was the first time they had performed. It was amazing to see them able to create their own theatre performance, in a real theatre, performed for their peers and support staff team. Young people staying with us often haven’t even been to a theatre before, let alone performed on stage. On the other hand, we also had young people attending who are aspiring actors, and this gave them the opportunity to further develop their practice and start to see a career in theatre as an achievable goal.
The finished performance was a privilege to be able to attend, and has been one of the highlights of working with our young people. We would certainly seek to work with Cardboard Citizens again and thank you to Jessie, Aliyah, Terry, River, Holly, Aedo, Brendan and all our young performers and contributors who worked on this project.
Thanks to John Lyon’s Charity for their invaluable support and funding.