With the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown restrictions forcing many small voluntary and community organisations to scale back their support, one social enterprise in the city has been busier than ever.
Good Organisation, which trains homeless people to run walking tours within the city, initially had to suspend their work because the city came to a grinding standstill and visitors stopped arriving.
However, rather than furlough their team, the organisation decided to redirect their energy into delivering their projects differently, and over the past few months, their homeless participants have been provided with laptops and support enabling many of them to continually engage with their activities.
Innovative social perspectives
Since April, those involved have worked alongside volunteers online to develop a new GPS tour guide app, which will uncover the city’s history from a variety of different social perspectives, and the participants have been industriously recording stories and geo-mapping the featured locations.
Kenny Lieske from Good Organisation said:
“Our first digital tour has almost been completed, and includes an array of multi-media content from animated videos, audio interviews and transitional photographs which show local buildings at different points throughout time. The app, called ‘Audible York’ will be available to download on both iPhone and Android devices later in the year.”
Postcards from the Edge
He then explained that another of their projects has also found a new direction while the streets were devoid of people.
“Our project called ‘Postcards From The Edge’, which initially gave cameras to homeless people encouraging them to capture hidden heritage attractions outside of the city centre that tourists don’t normally see, began to document the impact of the lockdown, leading to a secondary collection of images called “Postcards From The Pandemic.”
Paul, one of the homeless photographers involved in the project added:
“I’m not sure how I would have coped without the project because I really felt isolated as a result of the covid situation. Luckily, I still had a camera and could go out and take photos. It was incredible because there were no people around and all of the buildings looked like they had been abandoned. It was eerie, like being in a timeless city.”
The organisation is currently distributing 32,000 postcards across the city, and local retailers interested in stocking them are being encouraged to get in touch.
In addition to rethinking the delivery of their existing work, Good Organisation has continued to innovate and has established a number of new initiatives too.
Life changing design
Among those, is a collaborative project bringing together established artists and designers with homeless people, ex-offenders and former drug users to create a distinctive range of t-shirts..
The scheme emerged from an arts project late last year, but during lockdown, they built a website where their unique designs are now available to buy.
Project lead Nigel Rogers told Social Vision:
“I think we recognised that not everyone involved in the work of Good Organisation was comfortable acting in a high profile role because of the stigma still surrounding homelessness, and didn’t want their situation to be publicly known.
The arts project was a way of engaging with those people in a different way, and we wanted to make sure that it was self sustaining financially, which is where the idea of printing and selling t-shirts came from.
It sits outside of our core tourism related mission, so we decided to establish a separate trading platform to drive the project forward. However, the participants are not only involved in the design process, but also in the printing, distribution and marketing so it really is something that belongs to them. You can support the project by visiting the online shop at www.coterminous.co.uk“
As well as creating employment opportunities during a period of uncertainty, surplus profits are used to offer additional training activities or other forms of support.
Local artists and designers interested in contributing to the scheme are being encouraged to get involved, either by licensing their work or donating designs suitable for t-shirts
“The garments we use are organic fair-trade cotton, so we hope to maintain an ethical supply chain to amplify the social impact of the project, and we use a digital print process which means that we can dispatch items on an order by order basis to reduce any unnecessary waste.”
So what’s next on the horizon? Kenny Lieske said:
“Our walking tours are slowly re-emerging from lockdown, but with limited group numbers to facilitate social distancing.
We’re also supporting the development of a Lived Experience Network, which builds on the confidence of our participants and is intended to enhance the voice and representation of homeless people across the city.
As part of York Design Week (26-31 October 2020), those involved in the network will be running a project called ‘A PLACE FOR ME’.
It’s a unique experiment bringing homeless people together with architects to create a visionary blueprint for a transition accommodation within the city, and marks a significant departure from traditional approaches to consultation by placing those with personal experience of homelessness at the heart of the design and planning process.
They’re being asked to reimagine emergency shelters, temporary accommodation and supported housing in an attempt to find a solution to the problem of homelessness that considers a range of complex needs.”
You can find out more about the work of Good Organisation via their website at www.goodorganisation.co.uk