Today I travelled to Newquay to meet with Denise Harrison in order to discuss plans for my on-going documentation of the homeless in the resort town. Denise is an ex - but by no means abdicated - drugs/alcohol support worker. She is currently working as a waitress, but plans to be returning to the care industry very soon - by any means necessary!
As I mentioned in my previous post, Denise came across my blog - and subsequently my article about the homeless - after a friend of hers came across my site. She immediately emailed me, asking if I would work along-side her to raise awareness about these troubled people of who she cares very dearly. Denise's dedication to these people is quite astounding, equal only to the infamous reverend Chris McQuellin-Wright of St. Clumb Minor church. In fact, Denise and Chris are close friends, and have been working together for a long time in an attempt to help those who do not have a roof over their head. It is at this point, however, that I regret to say that Chris' night shelter scheme for the homeless at his church has been closed down due to the bombardment of abuse, trouble and stress that he received after selflessly helping these people. All the more reason for this to go ahead, me and Denise cogitated.
I was to meet Denise at St. Columb Minor Church at 10:30am to kick things off. After digressing immediately after arriving in Newquay for a Burger King breakfast (x1 bacon, egg and cheese muffin, x1 coffe) I arrived at said church for a twenty-to-eleven. We got talking right away about our plans. The first thing I wanted to make clear was that this was going to be a long process; it would most likely be weeks before I gained the full trust of these people in order to create a portfolio of work that was strong enough and intimate enough. The second thing I made clear was that I would need Denise's help only in gaining preliminary access to the homeless, via the extensive contacts she has in the soup kitchens and charity distributions across Newquay. After that, I would hope to reach the point where I could simply turn up to a soup kitchen, or even just a street corner, and begin photographing straight away, alone, without the people wondering who I am. It is only when I reach this level of trust that I will be able to get the most intimate work.
Then Denise hit me with a bombshell - or rather, two bombshells. Firstly She has already been in contact with a gallery in the town centre who are more than willing to exhibit my work once it is complete. I spoke to the owner of the gallery later on that afternoon, and this was indeed the case. Secondly: Denise has gotten in contact with the managers of the likes of Ed Sheeran and Newton Faulkner to organise pop-up gigs in the St. Columb Minor church to help raise funds for the homeless-helping organisations - events at which I would also exhibit my work. She was so enthusiastic, in fact, that she even went as far as to email my work to the guys themselves. How that will go down remains to be seen. If we could pull it off, it would be amazing, but don't quote me on this.
Needless to say, after Denise dropped the latter bombshell, I was nearly rendered speechless. I'm not quite sure how this has all happened, but I liked it.
After we finished conjuring up all sorts of whimsical ideas, Denise decided that she would show me a few spots where I would most likely be spending a lot of time over the next few months. We made our way in to the town centre to see if we could find any of the regulars hanging out at the L shape on the barrow fields, just outside of Newquay town centre. On the way, Denise gave me a swift low-down of how she ended up out of the care business - predominantly through the recent 40% spending cuts in the public sector.
It was at this point in time the Cornish weather system decided that it was bored with regular climes, and instead it decided to rain horizontally and painfully; this is an occurrence that I am by now more than accustomed to.
We did in fact find what we were looking for at the L shape: three or so rough sleepers sitting and socialising. One of them was Lee Parkinson, whom I photographed the week before. This made the introductions a lot swifter and easier, and before long me and Denise were chatting to them and explaining to them what we were planning to do over the coming months. Of course, we were met by scepticism and accusations of ulterior motives at first - and rightly so, people in their position have every right not to trust everyone who comes their way. However, after I explained to the others how I photographed Lee the other day - and the dropping of the name 'Chris the Vic' - we were well on our way to getting a positive response. This encounter made me realise just how difficult it may be to gain the rough sleepers' complete trust, however, and as we left the group behind I was hit with a sense of tangible realisation, and not to mention awareness of the fact that this is the first time I will be dealing with a real-life subject off my own back. This was an especially poignant feeling after the initial jubilation of the morning's excitement.
The rest of the day was spent battling with the Cornish maelstrom, going to Subway and meeting up with the owner of the gallery which Denise spoke of earlier that morning. Appropriately titled The Gallery, the humble space, which is situated in Central Square at the heart of Newquay, is run by Ruth Arron. I showed her my recent work with the rough sleepers, and she was delighted to discuss my exhibiting there. Once again, I made it clear that it would most likely be several months before I come even close to having an exhibit-able body of work. She understood, and told me to keep in touch.
My next visit to Newquay - and most likely the official start of my project - will be on Wednesday next week, where Denise plans to introduce me to the good people who run the charitable soup kitchens at St. Michael's church.
I've written too much.