Sitting behind a computer screen in a different country probably wasn’t the best way to interview Lily Fothergill, events manager for the Love for the Streets campaign (LFTS). Set up in March 2017 as a fundraiser to support The Big Change Society (an organisation which Lily also is a part of), the campaign is heavily focused around the ideals of communication, voice and sound. The Big Change Society works to link homelessness charities together- a way of fairly distributing funding to avoid competition between charities- enabling them to work together efficiently to achieve the same goal.
So, after several messaging attempts, Lily and I decided to stick to the ideals of the campaign- that the best way to communicate is not in fact through words, figures or statistics in black and white on a page- but a good old conversation (even if through a Facebook call) about all things charity, homelessness and the infamous Manchester spirit.
Having always carried with her a little ‘white middle-class privilege guilt’, Lily explains that her lightening-blot moment came when she attended the conference “Honest Discussions about Homelessness” given by Jonah Ogbuneke, with whom she now collaborates for LFTS . Having ‘not intended to stay for the entire conference’ (due to it being the middle of her exam period), she found herself completely drawn in. The two decided to hold a fundraiser together (incredibly successfully I might add- managing to raise over a grand!), before then creating their own events brand. Now, having finished her degree, Lily has chosen to dedicate her time to the issue of homelessness through staying in Manchester to work on Love for the Streets campaign alongside another music based event- Jazzhop.
Having myself remarked on the difference in the visibility of homelessness in London and Manchester, I ask Lily if her move from hometown London to Manchester for her Politics degree also sparked a change in the way she saw homelessness. She says that although obviously homelessness is a huge problem in the two cities, in London everyone is ‘spread out’, whilst Manchester is very concentrated around its ‘town centre’ which is exactly where you notice the problem. She continues to explain that ‘people want to help but it’s not necessarily reflected in what you see on the streets.’
We spent a long time discussing this barrier that has managed to wedge itself between people needing help and other people wanting to help, as somehow this help is getting dissipated somewhere along the way. I had approached the interview with a very clear “every little helps” attitude in my mind. I could not get my head around the idea discussed in The Love for the Streets booklet whereby the existence of several charities working towards the same goal, whilst having an overall positive affect, can also bring some negatives alongside. What Lily explained to me was the idea of ‘trust’ and of forming a link with a charity. Homeless people come to rely on a certain charity, maybe even a certain person. If, when they return to that charity for help and the food/support is no longer there, because resources have been spread across many organisations, the consequence is that that trust begins to break down. Lily reiterates that we can’t just ‘throw money at a problem.’ ‘When people walk past someone on the street maybe their guilty conscience kicks in and they feel inclined to give something to reduce their own feeling of being uncomfortable,’ what is important however is that we do our research and make an informed decision of how best to apply our good intentions.
Throughout our entire chat, Lily places a huge emphasis on how we need to not segregate ourselves from homeless people. She gives me a little anecdote, citing a situation in which a friend remarked on how well Lily was able to communicate with ‘them’, and Lily’s response? ‘Well, yes because they are not a “them”’. We need to approach all people in life with the same attitude. They might not be as fortunate as us but that doesn’t mean they are any less human. At the end of the day, she explains, we can never know their true situation or how they came to be there but for ‘anyone sitting on the street, there is an issue,’ ‘it is never a first option.’ Moreover, we cannot expect people who find themselves in such a situation to simply ‘respond to our smiles with gratitude.’ The issue is an incredibly sensitive one.
Moving on to chat a little bit about the LFTS events, I love the way Lily seems to unconsciously link the theme of music with that of charity. She tells me that within the Manchester music scene ‘focus is much more on collaboration than competition’, and I privately remark just how well that ties in with the theme of the campaign. When we move on to talk about the atmosphere on LFTS nights, she can’t quite decide whether its due to the ‘wicked music we put on’, ‘the incredible hosts’ or ‘the fact that it’s a charity night’, but what’s for sure is that ‘people’s generosity definitely shines through on the door.’ This doesn’t always help her to completely overcome her nerves but when ‘happy faces’ are all she asks for, I’m confident that any night like this is bound to succeed.
Finally, I ask Lily what her advice would be for anyone out there wanting to help but feeling a little lost about how to do so. She suggests starting with small charities: ‘the easier the charities are to find, the more they already have the help.’ Her belief in this idea is supported by the statistics she was able to cite me, telling me 72% of resources are found amongst the top 2% of charities. Moreover, time is much more valuable than money.
However, the most important thing, she tells me, is to not get caught up in some sort of self-constructed ‘awkwardness’ and don’t think of people as ‘victims’. In other words, she says, with the phrase that I think sums up our entire conversation, ‘be a person.’
The next Jazzhop is on the 15th of March at Cubo, as a fundraiser for Love for the Streets. Here, local collective Leanin’ are taking over the basement while Top Deck remain, well, up on top deck. For more about, Leanin’, read our review of their gig for Oxfam.
Also, next week the LFTS team is collabbing with the Whitworth Art Gallery and will be ‘celebrating the work produced in a series of art workshops led by Love For The Streets and Manchester School of Art students with the charities Greater Together Manchester and Corner Stone. Check out the event page here.
LFTS is doing even more to give the homeless the engagement that they deserve with a session at Fuel. The aim of the talk is to tackle misconceptions surrounding homelessness and to give people who have experienced homelessness a chance to tell their story.
Finally, we’re helping Love for the Streets take over Owens Park, Fallowfield, with a psychedelia themed ArtBox 2.0. on St Patrick’s Day. Here we will be accompanied by the sunny, afrobeat-y vibes of Me Gusta. More on this to come, but don’t forget to click going on the event page there: Love For The Streets: Owens Park Takeover.
Follow this link to find out more about The Big Change Society and the work that they do.