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The Accumul8 Exhibition

Today, 14th June, is the last day of the Accumul8 exhibition at Hornsey Town Hall. It has been an incredible journey, from being filmed for London Tonight, selling Accumul8 photographs, jam and greeting cards and having so much positive interest, enthusiasm and encouragement from the visitors to the show.

Estimates are that over 1,400 people have visited the exhibition over the four days that we have been open. Most importantly is the rewarding experience and personal achievement it has been for the Accumul8 participants: young people who are homeless and living in the YMCA hostel in Crouch End. To have people admire their work, purchase it for their homes and want to talk to them about their photographs is something that was not in their mindset when we started the Accumul8 photography project in February this year and which has shown the Accumul8 group that they are valued and have value to themselves and other people. The goal of Accumul8 is to use creativity to give confidence and help people move to a better place in their lives. I hope we have shown that this is achievable.

Here are some photographs that Steve Franck took at the private view of the Accumul8 exhibition.

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Accumul8 gets featured in The Guardian!

Sometimes really good things happen with Accumul8, and getting featured in The Guardian is a fantastic achievement. The Guardian focused on the story of Accumul8 and how the students at Ravensbourne are learning and developing skills from teaching the YMCA residents about photography skills as well as developing an understanding of the project.

One of the goals when I set up Accumul8 was about creating multiple benefits and beneficiaries through collaboration, this feature by Natalie Gil of The Guardian really sums this up. Thank you, Natalie, for a great article!

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Teaching homeless people gives photography students a new perspective
When university students take on the task of teaching hostel residents to take pictures, both groups are stretched to their limits
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Sam Adesanyan, a resident at the north London YMCA, takes part in a photography workshop. Photograph: Stuart Moore

“I live with my parents in a three-bedroom house in a nice area, so compared to what these guys have been through, I’m a freakin’ princess,” says Robyn Slator, 21, a digital photography student who spent much of last year teaching homeless people to take pictures.

For fellow student Sam Goodridge, 20, one of the current teachers, it’s been eye-opening. “I come from Surrey where it’s mainly middle class white people, so it’s nice to see what the other half get up to, and make friends.”

They’re part of a project where university students have been sharing their creative skills with homeless men living in a YMCA hostel in north London. The hostel residents, who are also benefitting from the involvement of a professional photographer, say they are discovering their own creativity and developing job skills.

“Initially, I liked that it got me involved in something outside the YMCA,” says Stuart Moore (not his real name), 31, a hostel resident and workshop participant.

“But having taken part for a number for weeks now, I’ve enjoyed learning more about photography and the technical aspects of the camera itself. And it’s been good to get to know my fellow residents a little better.”

Liam Gayle, 29, another resident, says it’s encouraged him to socialise with people he otherwise might not have spoken to. “That’s not against their personalities, who they are or where they’re from… but by throwing you out of your comfort zone this helps you make new friends.”

And a third participant, Taurean Jordan, 29, adds: “I’ve learned that anyone can do anything – photography is something I never thought I’d take up.”

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The residents on a visit to Ravensbourne

Their “teachers” are students from Ravensbourne, an arts university in south-east London. For them, the project has been a huge boost to their communication, leadership and management skills.

Sanchez Palmer, 23, had never taught before, but this experience has persuaded him to go into education. Since graduating from Ravensbourne with a digital photography degree, he has got a job as a teaching assistant at a secondary school.

“I learned that it’s not always going to be as perfect as you want it to be,” says Palmer. “One week there’d be 10 people and another week there’d be two, but as long as I put all of me into it, it was fine.”

Palmer learned a lot from the residents: “Their stories affected the pictures they took. It’s weird, but you’d see pain in a picture and when you’d ask them to explain it, your eyes opened to new perspectives.” Sometimes, they’d ask to change photos into black and white to highlight emotion.

Slator, who also wants to become a teacher, says her only previous experience was with her local Brownie group. She says it was daunting at first having authority over an older, mostly male group from vastly different backgrounds.

“But once you get to know everyone, you become more comfortable. I came here on the first week with my posh voice, but that changed over the time.”

The project was organised by a social enterprise called Accumul8, founded by Marice Cumber, subject leader for enterprise and entrepreneurship at Ravensbourne, which specialises in digital media and design.

“This isn’t the easiest group of people to deal with,” says Cumber, “and education isn’t an easy ride, so it teaches you about passing on knowledge at a level that’s appropriate to your audience.”

The project’s goal was to showcase residents’ photographs at the Crouch End Festival. But to do that, they needed money. So they raised it by making and selling jams and chutneys – “preserves with a purpose” – from windfall fruit donated by the community.

The exhibition was a success, with prints selling for £45 – some multiple times – which worked wonders for the residents’ self-esteem.

“People wanted to talk to the photographers – so a group of people who’d previously been at the bottom of the pile in the community became celebrities for an evening,” says Cumber. “There was a positive vibe and more optimistic language being used.”

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North London YMCA residents at their photography exhibition in June 2014
The link with Ravensbourne is crucial in raising residents’ aspirations, says Cumber, and the hostel-dwellers who complete this year’s workshops will get a level two award in photography.

“It’s a big step up from where they are now – and visiting the college shows them that education is a possible goal to work towards,” she says.

Ravensbourne pays the student teachers and lends the necessary equipment. James Ward, subject leader for further education, says: “Ravensbourne has a broad outreach department where we look to work with hard-to-reach communities to get them to consider higher education.

“I’d hope that, in the long term, a couple of the homeless students will make it on to one of our access to HE diplomas, which act as a bridge into higher education.”

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The group sold jams and chutneys to make the money needed to exhibit residents’ photographs at the Crouch End Festival

Sean Ashley, 35, a support housing officer at the YMCA and former resident, took part in last year’s workshops, and says they set him up well for future employment. He found the jam business particularly interesting.

“It’s shown me how businesses and organisations are structured, the ins and outs of blogging, setting up businesses, licensing, which we had to deal with when selling the chutneys, and marketing. I’d never done these things before,” says Ashley.

More students should get involved with projects like this, says Slator: “At uni you gain knowledge to prepare you for the future, but it’s good to share it. And from a selfish point of view, it looks amazing on my CV that I taught people photography skills at a YMCA.”

The high point for everyone was the show they put on. “The residents had only been doing it a few months and had a whole exhibition to themselves, whereas I’ve been doing it for four years now and I’ve still had nothing,” she laughs. “They’ve overtaken me now, but I’m proud of them.”

The music studio at the hostel

The North London YMCA hostel have converted a space into a “creative hub”.  This is a self-contained flat which the residents have named The Penthouse as it’s on the top floor. In this space, creative activities take place such as drawing, cooking, baking and the Glamz beauty and make-up project.

They have also converted one room into a music studio. This became the setting for the Accumul8 workshop on music photography. This workshop had a really energetic and positively charged atmosphere, it was, as the saying goes, buzzing! Numerous residents came to play, sing, rap and perform their own work and the Accumul8 photographers recorded it all.

It is incredibly motivating to see the group’s confidence and communication levels rise, through instructing the musicians on how to pose, sharing and discussing their photos and talking about the experience. Even more so, as a journalist from a national paper was there to interview them, but more about that when it gets published…..

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Time to reflect and time to plan

The Accumul8 exhibition opened this year’s Crouch End Festival. The exhibition had visits from schools, project funders, the mayor, local MP’s and councillors and also, most importantly, from people  that have supported the project over the past nine months, from set-up to delivery. The Accumul8 exhibition has been such a success that the dates are being extended and the exhibition will now continue until 6th July.

The exhibition looks professional, with 60 images taken by the residents over the duration of the photography workshops. All the images are framed and numbered and all convey a story of how a group of particular people see their world. What’s even more brilliant is that we have sold quite a few of the photographs. All the money will go to continuing the project and developing it further so that it constantly adds value to the residents’ lives.

And value is a key word. The Accumul8 exhibition is an endorsement of the value of young people, what they can achieve if they are valued and what and who we value in our society and community. Through the Accumul8 opportunity, these young, homeless people were given a voice – a voice that people wanted to listen to and learn from. They were given an opportunity to express themselves and work towards a shared goal, and they had become valued participants of a project that had a direction for them and valued them.

The outcome of this process was an exhibition of their photographs, with people wanting to talk to and engage with them. A disenfranchised group of vulnerable adults had now become the positive, celebrated centre of attention. They were now photographers with work in an exhibition, work that was being admired and that people wanted to purchase and wanted to talk to them about and find out more about them. A very different sensation to feeling “outside”, worthless, rejected and excluded from society and what it had to offer.

This, for me, was the biggest achievement of Accumul8 so far. Seeing and witnessing that transformation in people, their new experiences of pride and joy in themselves and their work and their newly found sense of self – value through being valued by others. It doesn’t take much to make that difference, but that difference makes such a difference and has made such an impact to their lives.

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The Voice, Ravensbourne and an Exhibition update

We are now on the final part of the journey from Accumul8 chutneys and jams to an exhibition of photographs, and it has been a real learning journey. That journey is one of transition, not just that of the Accumul8 group, but also for myself. The Accumul8 project has to be one of the most rewarding learning experiences that I have had in 15 years of an education based career. I have learnt about humbleness, expectations, values, trust and respect. Sometimes the learning has been hard and I have had to learn to just accept that sometimes, a little is enough and to be satisfied. Something that rubs up against privilege and ambition and middle class drive. Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener, it is green enough and we can all sit on it and share and just enjoy it.

So, as we end this part of the journey there have been a few more wonderful highlights that I wanted to share. Accumul8 got a wonderful full page write up in The Voice (thanks to the wonderful Emma Carboni). All during the week, Emma has been emailing me with updates on the Accumul8 “raising awareness” campaign. And then I got an email which said “Full bloody page in The Voice” and you could feel the excitement overload buzzing over the internet!

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On Wednesday this week, was the visit to Ravensbourne, the college where I work. Ravensbourne have been brilliantly supportive of Accumul8, they have paid for the student helpers (lovely Robyn and Sanchez), are paying for the printing of the photographs for the exhibition and have loaned us all the equipment and cameras for the workshops. It’s a small, specialist college and they are, indeed, very, very special to Accumul8! (We just couldn’t have done the photography project without them).

The Accumul8 group had a tour round the building, a talk about all the different courses on offer at Ravensbourne and then we got down to selecting the final 80 prints for the exhibition, this is from a total of 1100 photographs that the Accumul8 group has taken over the past four months (not an easy task!). The countdown to the big show is beginning, it all feels very real and ever so slightly scary!.

The Accumul8 exhibition is less than two weeks away, and this weekend we are starting to frame up the images. All of a sudden, from viewing the images on a laptop, we are now seeing the finished photographs, in frames, ready to exhibit. We have already sold some of the work. I am, of course, hoping to sell alot more.

This blog is ending with a photo of the Accumul8 group after the visit and outside the iconic Ravensbourne building. It’s been a long, learning journey from making chutneys and jams in tiny church kitchen to a prestigious photography exhibition at The Couch End Festival. I’ve truly loved every minute of it.

 

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Accumul8 Happy Snappers!

Sanchez Palmer and Robyn Slater from Ravensbourne have now become involved with Accumul8.

Sanchez and Robyn are both digital photography students at the college and are keen to pass on their photographic skills and knowledge to the Accumul8 group of residents at the YMCA. In reverse, the Accumul8 project is giving them valuable skills and experiences that they can use in future employment opportunities, especially as they both want to get involved in education related careers once they leave college. Ravensbourne is supporting this project as part of its outreach work and as a way of building links with the wider community. So, everyone wins and thanks to everyone for getting involved!

This week the Accumul8 group experimented with different types of photographic lighting, got to try out DSLR cameras and were given their own digital cameras to start to take images so that they can build up a portfolio of work. We also went to see the Crouch End London Independent Photography group exhibition at Hornsey Library where the lovely Liz Brown gave us a tour and talked about the work on show.

It’s amazing what good can be achieved when people get together, we all just need the opportunity to get involved! Roll on next week’s session which Robyn and Sanchez will be leading themselves.

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Robyn explaining about lighting to the Accumul8 group.

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Sanchez shows how to get a good shot

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The Accumul8 group get their own cameras with Sanchez grinning like a proud parent!

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Branding, MP’s in a pub and an apple education.

On Thursday evening, the wonderful James Bridgman, who is a fellow co-director of The Crouch End Festival, came and met with Accumul8 attendees at the YMCA to help work out the branding and identity for the project. It was really interesting to discuss the “personality” of Accumul8, the message we wanted to convey and how we wanted to communicate that visually with our audience.

So, after an evening of looking and comparing various looks for the Accumul8 brand, we can now tick off the typeface, colours, text and image for our labels and, eventual, website. Accumul8 even has a strapline now – “Preserves With A Purpose”, which is pretty neat I think! More work to do, but we are definitely on our way!

Friday was cook, cook, cook with 24 jars of apple. pear and lemon chutney being made. One of which was given to Lynne Featherstone, the local MP, who asked to meet with me to find out more about Accumul8 and how it is helping the YMCA residents gain skills, confidence and routes back into employment. As she said, “It’s a win, win, win project”. Indeed it is, thankyou to the ever supportive David Winskill who made this meeting happen. And most importantly, I found out that our local MP’s office is above The Three Compasses pub on Hornsey High Street – pints and politics for all?

And another great big thank you must go to Transition Crouch End and Urban Harvest who organised a really inspiring celebration of all things Apple at their Apple Day –  whoever thought I’d be so interested and obsessed with the number of things that you can do with apples… I came away from The Apple Day with a bounty of cooking apples and the opportunity to sell Accumul8’s chutneys and jams at their Green Christmas Fair on Saturday 30th November at Hornsey Vale Community Centre, Mayfield Road (as well as witnessing people attempting to peel the longest apple peel). Bumper bonus!

Yippee – we’re in chutney-making business!

Yesterday, Daniel, Garfield and I spent the afternoon making green tomato, apple and ginger chutney. It was a mammoth adventure of chopping, weighing, cooking, stirring and potting. All done in a military (ish) fashion, with a few jokes and no major disasters.

Daniel has become an expert in chopping (but not onions) and Garfield has excelled in his washing and clearing up skills, really, he has an exceptional, and much admired, skill in making the kitchen look spik and span after our cooking escapades.

But, what’s more exciting, (is there anything more exciting than chutney?, I hear you ask…) is that today we sold our first two jars of chutney! Yippee!! My Crouch End Festival friend, Amanda, came over for coffee and came away with a jar of spicy apple chutney and a jar of green tomato and ginger chutney.

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Congratulations Amanda – you are Accumul8’s first ever customer! (Let’s hope the first of very many!)

 

Pear and Vanilla Cake

With some of the left-over pears from last week’s session I made a pear and vanilla cake. There was a slight experimental edge to it and, with anticipation, I shared it with the YMCA residents today as we chatted about Accumul8 and its future.

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