Sunday, 12 February 2012

the homeless of newquay...

It's becoming quite alarming how fast time has gone since I returned to Falmouth after the Christmas break. Just over a month has passed, and two weeks of my three-week project on relationships have been and gone. Even more worrying is that so far I have only shot one of the three required subjects for this assignment. Having said that, this one shoot turned out to be proverbial dynamite...

The day after I was given the brief I got in contact with a local vicar who has been sheltering the homeless in St. Columb Minor church near Newquay. On Sunday 6th February I spent the day with two of the rough sleepers who had been seeking shelter at the church for the past week or so: David Jones and Lee Parkinson . David and Lee showed me where they eat, sleep, drink and socialise. It's safe to say that the 8 hours I spent with them was probably one of the most interesting, insightful and eye-opening 8 hours I have had since beginning the Press & Editorial Photography course back in September of last year.

But let's start from the beginning. I originally got wind of the story through This is Cornwall, who posted the following article on their website:

The article tells of Reverend Chris McQuellin-Wright, a forty-year-old resident of St. Columb Minor who began sheltering the homeless in his church back in 2002. At first he only had a smattering of rough sleepers seeking shelter, often only receiving two to three people each year. Now, as the economic climate worsens, Chris has seen twenty-three homeless people pass through his church doors since November 2011 alone.  

Now, one would take this as an encouraging sign for Chris, as news of his hospitality reaches farther and farther across Cornwall and the West Country; indeed, Chris welcomes the rough sleepers with open arms - being the vice chairman of the homeless charity St. Petroc's Society, Chris' dedication to these people goes beyond simply being a good Christian. In reality, though, the increased traffic of rough sleepers through the village of St. Columb Minor has given Chris a lot more grief than expected. This is not because of the homeless causing trouble in the village. No. It is in fact the villagers themselves who have been causing the trouble, complaining that the "scum" will ruin their village, which "is a very close and tight-knit community". Yes, the villagers who have their comfortable, warm houses and wide-screen televisions have been complaining about Chris' incredible devotion to these, admittedly troubled, but nonetheless needy, people. One man even squared up to Chris recently, branding him as "the most hated man in Newquay" for what he has been doing. This and more can be read in an article here, also on This is Cornwall:

I was pretty confused upon reading this article. I am not a Christian man myself  - I do not support religious beliefs at all, in fact - but in my eyes, if a church should be doing anything, anything at all, then it is this. Needless to say, this gave the story an entirely new dimension, and I was spurred on to create the following documentation of the homeless of Nequay... 

Reverend Chris McQuellin-Wright

I arrived at St. Columb Minor church at around 8:45am - 45 minutes later than planned. This was due to the fact that, apparently, the entire West Country stops moving on weekends. Kindly, Chris had waited for my arrival, despite the fact he had a service to take at St. Colan church a few miles down the road at 9:00am. So, following an extremely brief introduction to the homeless who had slept at the church the previous night, we sped over to St. Colan in Chris' car.

It was at this time that it became obvious that Chris was no 'ordinary' vicar. He was, in fact, quite brilliant, and probably the only vicar I will ever meet who doesn't severely get on my wick. His sarcastic rhetoric and habit of swearing as we drove over to St. Colan caught me totally by surprise. Chris obviously noted my reaction, saying "You obviously didn't Google me before you arrived, did you?". "No" I replied dumbly.

Service was due to start at 09:00am. After literally running in to the church and throwing on his robe at the altar in front of bemused church-goers, Chris was ready to begin. He began, in fact, by announcing the reason for his lateness that morning: me. A sea of Christian faces turned my way as I sheepishly apologised and pointed towards my camera, as if this would in some way help the people understand. An interesting start, to say the least. Chris then continued to talk in this humorous and informal rhetoric to the church-goers for quite some time, who appeared to be accustomed to such behaviour. Service then continued in its usual, Godly manner as another preacher took over to talk about how Facebook was the anti-Christ. Probably. At this point in time Chris then literally took a pew at the back of the church and proceeded to almost fall asleep... Either that or he was praying really, really hard...

In Chris' defence, he told me on the drive over that he had recently been working twenty-hour days due to his  substantial roll in the community, not to mention looking after the homeless of Newquay. And in all seriousness, once the service began, I saw  the dedicated, and slightly batty, vicar transform before my eyes. What I saw was a humble, God-fearing man who loved every minute of what he was doing...

It was not until after returning to St. Columb Minor that I came in to any sort of prolonged contact with the homeless, who had stayed at the church to wait for Chris' 11:00am service. As soon as I began photographing them I knew that this was where my story would be focused. I soon befriended David, who has been without a home since 2008 after having a nervous breakdown following the repossession of his home and a career in the armed forces, resulting in a serious drinking problem; and Lee, a native to Bournemouth who has been homeless since the age of sixteen (portraits below). 

David Jones, 49

Lee Parkinson, 40
from left to right: David Jones, Roberto Darrick and Lee Parkinson saying the Lord's Prayer

David and Lee wait in line receive bread and wine at the altar

I felt that these scenes in the church alone represented how genuinely grateful and willing these people are to be part of a community who support each other. David and Lee admitted that they got a very positive feeling from being present at the services. Unfortunately, it would appear that this community, which prides itself on acts of good-will and respect, do not see the men in the same way. 

After the service Lee explained to me how he has heard the elder members of the community speaking in a derogatory manner about their presence within clear earshot of both Chris and the other homeless people.
David, Lee and the other rough sleepers are not permitted to stay at the church all day, not even by Chris. As they were leaving to make their way in to town I asked if I could could join them. They were happy, and with orders from Chris - or 'Chris the Vic', as he has become affectionately known by the homeless people of Newquay - to "look after me", I made my way in to Newquay town, about to be shown the day in the life of people who have no home to return to after service...

David and Lee look over the Newquay town beaches. In the distance The Atlantic Hotel sits on the headland.

David stops in the street to push a delivery van as its engine cut out in the middle of the road

It turned out that the man worked for Domino's Pizza, he offered Dave a free pizza in return for his help. "I believe in Karma" David said as we continued walking.

An abandoned house which, according to David, will soon become a new squat.

The L, a public toilet and shelter situated on the barrowfields on the outskirts of Newquay. David, Lee and other homeless people often hang out here to drink and socialise.

Even after spending such a short amount of time with David and Lee, I could tell that they were not 'bad' people. Of course, they had made mistakes in the past - but who hasn't? They were genuinely kind and very happy to help me with my project, respecting the fact that I was simply interested in their situation, and not exploiting them to create some sob story. I was also very surprised at their respect for the surroundings. David made a point of never leaving rubbish on the floor, of defacing property or of stealing. He spoke of how the people of Newquay have an extremely stereotypical opinion of the homeless in Newquay, and yet every summer the tourists and locals litter the streets with their beer bottles and remnants from beach barbecues, contradicting their zealous views. He was also genuinely happy to help people - and not just me - as seen in the frames where he helped the broken down van in the road. 

I got  a strong feeling that David was simply unfortunate. He was a dedicated worker before he was forced to live on the streets in 2008; he had previously been a drug and alcohol tutor at a prison, helping those that had problems with substance abuse. He then served a long time in the forces, working in a bomb disposal unit for the army. He also trained in the emergency services, working as a fire fighter for several years. Unfortunately, David soon found himself in trouble with alcohol himself. Blaming the heavy drinking culture in the armed forces as part of the problem, he told me of how "If you had a problem, you had a pint". His abuse of alcohol spiralled. His body became alcohol dependent to the point that he would suffer from 'alcoholic seizures' if he did not have alcohol in his system. Following a string events in 2008, including the disintegration of his relationship and the repossession of his home, David had a nervous breakdown. 

After three years of living on the streets, however, David has accepted his problems. He has limited himself to four cans of beer or cider a day, and is accepting help from Veterans' Aid, a charity which deals with ex-armed forces personnel who suffer from alcohol dependency and other mental or physical problems. 

David and Lee sit in a public shelter by the harbour where they often sleep at night. Sometimes the fishermen will give them freshly caught fish to cook at the church in St. Columb.

David stops by Boots to put on cologne. "No need to smell like a homeless person is there?" he said to me.

David asks a couple in the street for a cigarette.

David picks up a bottle of cider at  £2 for two litres from Bargain Booze to share with a friend who did not want to be photographed.

Lee sits on the steps to Mind, an organisation which helps those with addictions and mental illnesses. 

David picks up his free pizza from Domino's.
As we made our way around Newquay, David introduced me to one of his friends, Clive Bladen. David met Clive on his birthday after he gave him a joint on the beach. Now, they see each other almost daily. Clive was quite articulate, and told me of how he lived on the streets through choice after massive problems with his relationship. He did not appear upset or even worried about the fact he did not have a home. 

Clive Bladen

Clive chats with David and Lee on the steps of the Beach Nightclub in Newquay town centre.

The bench where Clive chooses to sleep, despite the offer of the church from Chris

As we were returning to the church in St. Columb, David and Lee stopped at The L to finish off the Domino's pizza which was given to them. As we approached we saw a very small and frail man sitting on the bench. As we sat down it became clear that this man obviously had severe mental difficulties. He struggled with talking and was shivering violently due to the harsh wind which was blowing across the headland, a problem which was not helped by the fact he was merely dressed in tracksuit bottoms, sandals and a T-shirt. What followed was probably the most humbling part of the entire day, as David and Lee attempted to feed and dress the man...

David offers a slice of hot pizza in vain, willing the man to eat. It appeared as though he was not even aware of what he was looking at.

David gave wrapped his coat around the still unidentified man. Although he could not talk, his appreciation was evident.

After a short while the man's carer showed up. They had become separated in town and had been looking for the man, who was apparently called Tony. David gave up his fleece for Tony to keep. Afterwards, he turned to face me and said "this is the real world".  

After spending the day with these people, and gaining but  a fraction of an experience of their way of life, I feel compelled ot continue documenting their lives. After speaking to Chris, it is agreed that I will be returning to St. Columb and Newquay very soon to create an on-going study of the homeless of Newquay. Perhaps I can change peoples' perception of these misunderstood and often compassionate people - perhaps I won't. But it is the first time I have truly felt the need to prove - or at least say - something with my photography. 



  1. Really good work sam. You have some great images, and a fantastic story to go with them.
    It's nice to see that you are going to carry it on as a personal project.

  2. wow sam thats really amazing work. such an insight, and (for once) im not even being sarcastic. -theo x

  3. Wow, David really did put on a show for you that day!!!, Now I don't mean to be nasty or horrible and I do feel sorry for the homeless people, but when they do themselves no help how can they expect to be helped.

    I have come across David on a few occasions where he has been using a 'friend' for a flat. An apartment which is only 2 years old and has turned into a squat already, when in a no smoking building, the tenant, along with David and a few other friends have been smoking, drinking and causing a disturbance through the night and days where other residents pay a substantial amount to live in a secure building and he is disregarding all respect for the property and people within it.

    I am not aiming this directly upon David, but as you have documented this article around him, and I have also seen another side to his life, I only feel compelled to voice my opinion.

    Many occasions he, along with a few other homeless people congregate in public areas, drinking, and drug taking, and as you have put it 'hang out' at benches and parks where the general public, including elderly, single people, young children and especially young mothers feel threatened by there presence because of the stereotype of not only just homeless people, but the stereotype of drunk people and people under the influence of drugs. Living in Newquay, local people find it common to find a drunk person being loud, aggressive and violent throughout the town and can not wait for the 'silly season' to end to have a peaceful town, only then to have the streets and benches filled with homeless people with nothing better to do than drink cheap alcohol, squatting where ever they can, and having no respect for anyone that tries hard in their to put a roof over their head when these people, yes some in unavoidable circumstances, do nothing to help themselves.

    I would say David is a very interesting man, complex with a great deal of depth to his life, but, after his problems and complications in life all I see is a shallow man with little drive or ambition left getting through his day with alcohol, aggression and threats.

    I do hope you continue your documentation with the homeless and hope you turn it to a positive, but I do suggest that maybe you spend a little longer than an afternoon with these people to get to know them and know how they live, why not try spending a few nights sleeping rough and really indulge in the homeless culture and reveal some truths

  4. Homeless Plymouth man waved knife in face of girl, 15, at bus stop

    'A MAN waved a knife in the face of a 15-year-old girl at a city centre bus stop, a court heard.

    Homeless David Jones, aged 48, brandished a steak knife with a four-inch blade eight inches from the frightened teenager, Plymouth Magistrates' Court was told.

    District judge Kevin Gray ruled his powers of punishment were not sufficient and sent Jones to be sentenced at Crown Court.

    Jones, who had walked to court through the night from Newquay, admitted possession of a bladed article on November 23.

    Kathy Taylor, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said the 15-year-old was waiting at a bus stop in Charles Street near Drake Circus at about 7.15pm.

    She said Jones passed her some sweets and he asked for 12 pence.

    The court heard the girl passed him some money.

    Mrs Taylor added Jones then asked whether she was cold and wanted to borrow his coat.

    She said the teenager began to walk away but Jones pulled a knife from his sock.

    Mrs Taylor said Jones said he knew the girl's father, but she did not really understand what he was talking about.

    She added: "He waved his knife about eight inches in front of her face. She was scared and confused and started to cry. He put his knife back into his sock and walked away."

    The court heard the girl went to the nearby police station and officers arrested Jones nearby, still carrying the knife.

    John Haythorne, for Jones, said he had been in the Army but had suffered a breakdown and was now living with a vicar in Newquay. He added he was hoping to be rehoused.

    Mr Haythorne said Jones had walked through the night from Cornwall to reach court.

    Mr Gray said because he brandished a knife in public and had previous convictions, he would have to be sentenced at Plymouth Crown Court.

    He was released on unconditional bail until February 8.'

    Just another article you may want to read about

    1. 'Andnewquay':

      Before you continue to tell me how to conduct my photography, and if you had taken the time to read the rest of my blog, you will have seen that spending more time with these people is exactly what I intend to do - I start tomorrow morning, in fact. I completely understand the way you see these people; the social stigma and stereotypes surrounding them dictates your opinion, no doubt. However, I put it to you: have YOU spent enough time with these people to know what they are truly like? From what I have gleaned over the past couple of weeks, I know I certainly haven't, but I intend to do so with all my efforts. I feel compelled to continue. The pictures may be uplifting, they may be shocking; but they will be real. I do not intend to create false persona's - or as you put 'turn it to a positive' - if the situation I am photographing is not positive, if it is shocking, then that is how it is. If it is uplifting, then it is uplifting. Either way, people should see it.

      In hind sight, I now take back my first impressions of David. I have recently got wind of his true nature - particularly in that news story - and the fact he has been one of the main reasons why Chris' operation at the St. Columb Minor church has been shut down. I feel great disappointment upon hearing this news, when David acted so kindly towards me that day; although I did get the impression that he wasn't letting on to a lot of truths, I personally felt nothing threatening from him that day.

      If anything, this makes me want to continue the study even more, because it just goes to show how little people know about the homeless of Newquay. I certainly have a lot to learn. I truly believe that more can be done to help these people. You said yourself that they 'have nothing better to do'. I find this opinion quite sad. In fact I find your whole negative outlook quite sad. They should have many better things to do; Chris' support at the church was providing them with that something. But now he has been shut down - admittedly, partly because of the likes of David who were causing trouble in the local pub - but also due to the surprisingly large population of close-minded people in the St. Columb Minor community. A largely Christian community, no less. What does this say about them?

      And so it is upon these recent events that I have decided to make this an on-going study. As a photojournalist I believe it is my duty to show the people of Newquay an un-biased viewpoint of these people. Not so I can create some sob story about how they have no home, but to show them as real people, because I feel that people like you do not see them as real people. You simply label them as trouble, and seemingly attempt to deter people like me from taking a closer look. I want to photograph them because they are real, interesting people who deserve to be heard. If my work can help them in any way at all, I would be happy. Indeed, I am not expecting the people of Newquay to turn around and fix the problem on the spot. On the contrary, I do not think that the problem will ever be resolved. However, if I can but open peoples' eyes with my work - to give the often narrow-minded population of Newquay a wake-up call - then I would feel like I had done my job.

      Once again, I would like to point out that neither of us truly have an idea of what these people are like, or how they live, or how they feel, or even something as simple as to how they ended up without a home. Unfortunately, it would appear that somebody like yourself will not take the time to see it. I will. I will be posting new work soon, so I invite you to follow my journey. You might learn something; I certainly hope I will.


  5. @andrewnewquay,

    If you are implying that Newquay's problems are caused by or even related to homeless persons carrying what is probably nothing more than a kitchen knife, then you are missing the point.

    Meanwhile the work is a sensitive study of an issue that affects every town and city in the UK, and one that I personally believe has helped show that even persons with "prior" have more than one side.


    1. Andy.

      I am afraid I don't understand what you are trying to say. Keep track of my blog, and hopefully you will see what I was trying to explain.


    2. Jon:

      I was not directing that previous comment at you - I missed the fact that you were not Andrew!

      Thank you for your support. Although Andrew does have a point - albeit a crude point; I understand the way people see the homeless - I would like to make clear again that I am doing this work to observe and not to judge. Andrew's comments have made me realise that there is no other way of portraying these people in any other light - they are homeless, some of them are addicted to alcohol or drugs, and they are often seen on the streets drinking - there is nothing I can do change that fact, or indeed to change the majority of the public's opinion.

      However by doing this work and immersing myself in their lives (I intend to sleep rough with them on numerous occasions in the near future) I hope to gain an insight in to their very human stories, and to share that insight with the people of Newquay, and hopefully the rest of Cornwall. I have already discovered stories of great humanity and prosperity; a man called Dave Roberts, for example, who was once homeless but now has a job and a home.

      Anyway, I have not begun my photographic documentation just yet, I am still in the 'preliminary stages' of getting to know the guys, and getting them used to my presence. I am returning on Saturday and, depending on if I feel the time is right to start photographing, I will do so.

      I invite you Jon to follow this story and to tell as many people as you can about it. Please, share my blog link on Facebook (if you have it); email it to friends and family; tell people at work about it. I have already gathered a small amount of momentum with this project, and I want to keep the ball rolling and have as much awareness as possible. Both for my sake and for the sake of the homeless. Plans for fund-raising events and exhibits are in the pipe-line for the near future, which I will advertise on this blog when necessary.

      Thank you.


  6. very interesting doc...indeed and the photos are being a fan of BW photography as well..i was nearly homeless myself once due to neighbours from hell that caused me much trouble.i was wandering the sreets trying to get away from the looked rough myself..
    what distresses me of late is this crude attempt to discredit anyone that doesnt fit 'acceptable britain'..
    so far i have read such things as 'ALL DISABLED ARE SCUM'
    private renters are criminal drug dealers
    unemployed are criminal sub class.
    benefit claimants are terrorists (!)
    all benfit claimants are workshy feckless idle scroungers..

    but for me the most tragic was reading about someone i knew who commited suicide because they feared imprisonment for commiting benefit fraud when they were entirely innocent as they were quite unwell..

    the trouble with stereo typing is the consequences..usually tragic ones..

  7. Samuel, what has happened with your project? I am Lee Parkinsons sister and have been unable to contact him for many years! I have tried on many occasions to contact you but have failed! I live on the other side of the earth in South Africa and your blog has been the only contact I have had of my brother! Michelle