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Islington Crash Pad exhibition gives homeless youngsters a voice through art

PUBLISHED: 14:20 29 April 2016 | UPDATED: 14:32 29 April 2016

Sam Parrington of the Pilion Trust at the exhibition in Caledonian Road on Wednesday. Picture: Andy Commons (andycommonsimages.com)

Sam Parrington of the Pilion Trust at the exhibition in Caledonian Road on Wednesday. Picture: Andy Commons (andycommonsimages.com)

andy commons

It isn’t just older people who fall on hard times. James Morris finds out about the sad reality of homeless young people in the capital – and how charities like The Pilion Trust and Project One Zero are working in Islington to give them a creative outlet.

Anne-Marie Salmon and Savvas Panas at the exhibition at Bemerton Art Studios, Caledonian Road. Picture: Andy Commons (andycommonsimages.com)Anne-Marie Salmon and Savvas Panas at the exhibition at Bemerton Art Studios, Caledonian Road. Picture: Andy Commons (andycommonsimages.com)

Think back to the winter of 2010 and chances are you will recall some of the heaviest snowfall, and coldest weather, since records began.

It was November 30 when, at the height of these appalling conditions, The Pilion Trust opened its Crash Pad winter shelter for homeless young adults aged between 18 and 23.

Since then, it has opened for four months every winter. And 574 young people have passed through its doors in North Road, Holloway.

Each one has fallen on the hardest of times. Some have suffered abuse in the home, for example, while others have been caught up in gangs.

The art exhibition at Bemerton Art Studios, Caledonian Road, featured work by young people from the Crash Pad shelter. Picture: Andy Commons (andycommonsimages.com)The art exhibition at Bemerton Art Studios, Caledonian Road, featured work by young people from the Crash Pad shelter. Picture: Andy Commons (andycommonsimages.com)

Pilion Trust chief executive Savvas Panas has seen it all over the last six years.

While he is currently resigned to the “mini-tsunami” of homeless young adults in Islington, he is also well placed to help Crash Pad “guests” thrive.

One way to do this, he argues, is through art.

This year, Crash Pad guests worked at Project One Zero, based at Bemerton Art Studios in Caledonian Road.

The art exhibition at Bemerton Art Studios, Caledonian Road, featured work by young people from the Crash Pad shelter and attracted a big crowd even before the official start time. Picture: Andy Commons (andycommonsimages.com)The art exhibition at Bemerton Art Studios, Caledonian Road, featured work by young people from the Crash Pad shelter and attracted a big crowd even before the official start time. Picture: Andy Commons (andycommonsimages.com)

Each Sunday, they had the freedom to create: from paintings to photography to t-shirt designs.

On Wednesday they held an exhibition to sell their work to the public, with the art studio packed even before its official 6pm start time.

“Young people who suffer homelessness struggle to have a voice,” Mr Panas explains.

“They are unlikely to conform into the established system and may not be able to express themselves.

The art exhibition at Bemerton Art Studios, Caledonian Road, featured work by young people from the Crash Pad shelter. Picture: Andy Commons (andycommonsimages.com)The art exhibition at Bemerton Art Studios, Caledonian Road, featured work by young people from the Crash Pad shelter. Picture: Andy Commons (andycommonsimages.com)

“But if you introduce them to music or art or photography, they actually have something to say. It builds self-esteem, producing something tangible rather than theorising by saying: ‘I am a creative person’.”

Anne-Marie Salmon, who founded Project One Zero in September last year, agrees: “It has helped them, having somewhere like this to come.

“When you do something creative, your brain thinks in a totally different way. You become more social, bouncing ideas around.

“I hope they can take some of these skills away.”

Music outside the art exhibition at Bemerton Art Studios, Caledonian Road, which featured work by young people from the Crash Pad shelter. Picture: Andy Commons (andycommonsimages.com)Music outside the art exhibition at Bemerton Art Studios, Caledonian Road, which featured work by young people from the Crash Pad shelter. Picture: Andy Commons (andycommonsimages.com)

The Crash Pad offers a safe space to sleep, relax and eat, as well as pathways to education and employment.

There is one condition: that everyone switches off their phone off and “brings their problems to the dinner table” every night at 7pm. This is a way of making sense of their situations, Mr Panas says.

But he is worried demand for the shelter, which can accomodate 15 people, is only going to grow.

“There are government cuts, and a lack of affordable housing. The City YMCA in Old Street will soon close for a two to three-year refurbishment. There is a big crisis that we are about to face in Islington.

T-shirt designs were among the creations from Project One Zero. Picture: Andy Commons (andycommonsimages.com)T-shirt designs were among the creations from Project One Zero. Picture: Andy Commons (andycommonsimages.com)

“Fifty per cent of people we accomodate are from Islington. It’s already a massive issue. One we had was referred to us by the Bemerton Estate manager. He was sleeping in his car.

“It’s a mini-tsunami coming this way. We have had young people who moved on two years ago come back to us. The schemes just aren’t there for people who fall on hard times. We do what we can but rely entirely on donations and volunteers.”

Donations can be made to the Pilion Trust on justgiving.com/piliontrust

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