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Stories of homelessness (un)heard at Cheltenham Literature Festival

Laura Gavin 18 October 2018

Real stories of homelessness, told by people with lived experience, were shared at Cheltenham Literature Festival last week, which also marked #WorldHomelessnessDay and #WorldMentalHealthDay.

(Un)Heard was a collaborative project involving the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham, P3 Charity, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gloucestershire and other local organisations across the county, aiming to dispel myths about people who don’t have a place to call home and the complex issues of mental ill health, addiction and social exclusion which they often face.

Playwright Martin Lytton worked with people who had firsthand experience of homelessness, as well as local organisations and support workers to collate the piece, with several of the cast members sharing their own stories on the night in a candid and emotional performance.

The (Un)Heard cast. Top row left to right: Aqeel Abdulla, David, Writer Martin Lytton, Mark Roper, Simon Stanhope, Tuyen Do. Bottom row left to right: P3's Josh Jones, Martin, Everyman's Camille Cowe, Gary.

Gary, who took part in writing, directing and acting in the performance, said:

“From where we’ve all come from, to where we are now…there’s no way any of us thought we’d be here this time last year. My levels of anxiety are so high sometimes, I can’t come out – now I’m about to stand up in front of people in Montpelier Gardens!”

Gary became homeless after losing his mum and related his own experiences of addiction, grief and mental ill health, alongside a cast made up of other participants and actors who told the stories of those who weren’t able to perform them live. He explained:

“It’s a hard thing we’ve done. Everything we’ve written, Martin hasn’t changed it, he’s just arranged it. Emotionally, it’s really important because it’s real, it’s not been candy-coated. Doing this has given me loads of self-belief, it’s made me feel that I’m worth the help. It only takes one person to stand up and tell you how it is, and if that changes the whole perception of people on the street…we’re going to change people’s lives.”

Participant Martin, and writer Martin Lytton sign copies of (Un)Heard

After the performance, and a standing ovation from the audience, copies of the (Un)Heard book were available to be signed by the cast, featuring the script, plus poems written by participants, and volunteers and staff from P3 and the Everyman.

Camille Cowe, Education & Community Manager at Everyman Theatre, said:

“I feel that it’s the most important project I’ve ever done. It’s literally dealing with people’s lives; it’s been such a privilege and the people taking part have been so brave, taking a real risk. These voices need to be heard.”

CLICK HERE to read (Un)Heard.