About the Project
Howyiz, this page is about Writing Home, a programme I developed for homeless service users through 2020/22. It was supported by Kilkenny County Council, Creative Ireland and Poetry Ireland and it was one of the most challenging and inspiring things I ever worked on. It was such a rewarding process, and so beneficial to all involved, that I want everyone to know about it.
If you’re part of a service or community organisation, if you’re a poet or writer or any type of artist, I’d like you to take a read about Writing Home, and be encouraged to run similar programmes yourself.
I believe that making art is a transformative experience that profoundly impacts the individual, but also that it can and should do more than that. With the right support, the processes and results of creative programmes like Writing Home could be used to bring more empathy into a multitude of systems in Ireland, especially those tasked with caring for people in challenging circumstances.
It might seem like a stretch, but I don’t think it is, and anyways, it’s difficult times like this that require ambitious thinking. We tried to make this project work in many different ways, and often we were told it wasn’t doable, but thankfully we found the organisations and people who wanted to and could make it happen, and together we found a way.
Initiatives like Writing Home help systems and organisations not only to function better, but to understand those they serve better. Writing Home is completed as a project, but there are loads of individuals and institutions who can and should organise similar programmes of their own.
So that’s why I’m putting all this here – in the hope that Writing Home, the initiative itself (as well as the documentary film and subsequent evaluation you can find out about below) serve as encouragement and testament to the value of this approach.
The Writing Home Initiative was a programme of creative engagement developed by poet Colm Keegan for homeless service users. The programme was supported by Kilkenny County Council, Creative Ireland and Poetry Ireland and was designed to:
- promote engagement with creativity within marginalised groups.
- provide activity and focus within emergency accommodation settings where Covid 19 restrictions will reduce freedom of movement and activities during the winter months.
- offer a programme of workshops to promote self-expression and improve wellbeing amongst participants.
- create a literary body of work to be developed into a professional production to voice the representative views of those in emergency accommodation and to recognise their creative contribution.
- share and promote the work produced to improve understanding and raise awareness around issues of homelessness and to build social cohesion and integration.
- share and promote the work produced to inform policy decisions around the provision of creative and arts programmes within communal state funded facilities.
Colm worked with several service providers across the country, developing and delivering a programme of workshops to engage with homeless service users in Dublin, Kilkenny and Waterford with each location working towards a public celebration of the work and participants.
Colm Keegan visited (using online means alongside in-person visits when possible) selected groups over a period of 6 weeks. These groups explored multiple means of written self-expression and reflection, like rap and spoken word as well as looking at structure, character and storytelling. Each participant created a small body of work, based on their own life experiences.
The process was far more successful than envisaged, with real engagement from homeless service users, a marginalised group who can be difficult to reach using established Arts project delivery. The creative potential unleashed and the wellbeing outcomes were such a revelation that the initiative was awarded Best Education/Training Initiative at the All Ireland Community & Council Awards (LAMAs).
Arcade Film were involved through the programme, with filming of the workshops and related events taking place at each service provider location involved. This filmed material became a documentary, which is currently being submitted to festivals and is available for viewing on request.
Feedback from participants’ and organisations involved were so positive that a special evaluation was implemented by Quality Matters to measure the impact of the programme. The image above highlights the most notable findings around the benefits of writing & creativity in relation to wellbeing.
Writing Home stands as proof of concept for the following three hypotheses:
Poetry and spoken word can be a means of advocating for and supporting those undergoing the crisis of homelessness.
Art can build connections between state institutions and those they intend to serve in a way that makes a difference.
Art can help overcome the damaging frameworks of the past to build a more inclusive Ireland for everyone.
If you would like to organise a similar programme for a community or organisation, or want to learn more about the initiative, feel free to get in touch below.