v. To inhabit, visit, or appear to in the form of a ghost.
n. A place much frequented.
v. To haunt one’s thoughts or memory.
The history of this town haunts us.
These buildings in which we live are spectres of past opulence.
The healing of this town is not for us.
Harrogate is known for its past as a wealthy spa town, and still has a reputation as a genteel place of tea rooms and flower shows.
This is not the Harrogate of everyone. For some people this idealised history is a haunting presence in their lives. In the fabric of buildings where they live in one room, or the parks where they sleep. Their experiences are muffled beneath the dominant voice of Harrogate.
Haunt explores how people who are homeless, or bedsit residents, live inside these ghosts of the town’s past. Haunt gives people a place to tell stories not normally heard within the accepted narrative of the town and bring them to a wider audience.
Haunt was a project that grew out of my own experiences after I was kicked out of home at 16 (spending time living in bedsits or no fixed abode), but only became something real thanks to the support and input of Tessa Gordziejko and Imove Arts, and the hard work of my fellow lead writer, Becky Cherriman (who also experienced homelessness in her Harrogate during her teens). In four years we;
- Held writing workshops for people experiencing homelessness
- Had work exhibited as part of the Harrogate Stories exhibition in the Royal Pump Room Museum, Harrogate
- Worked with award winning photographer Paul Floyd Blake to create a series of images to capture not only the process of the project, but the experiences of people who are homeless in Harrogate.
- Produced an anthology containing work by people who had experienced homelessness. The anthology was designed to fit in a pocket, so people who were homeless could easily carry a copy. The font was chosen from a 1920’s tourist brochure for Harrogate, so their words were embedded in the identity of the town.
- Held pop-up readings throughout the town.
- Launched the anthology at the Royal Pump Room Museum, with readings by project participants who had experienced homelessness.
- Created an immersive walking theatre performance exploring the way that Harrogate’s identity as rich affluent town haunts the lives of people experiencing homelessness or vulnerable housing. The show started off as a conventional ghost walk, taking the audience around town, before contemporary stories started to cut in and across. The show ended up in the basement of the Harrogate Library where we recreated a bedsit and played stories drawing on experiences of myself, Becky, and other participants.
- Shortlisted for a Best Collaborative Project Saboteur Award.
- Carried out a week long residency in Cheltenham (a spa town with a similar profile to Harrogate), culminating in a final performance by the participants.
After four years, I think the main thing we achieved was to show that even in a place seen as affluent like Harrogate there are other experiences, and other stories to be told that so often get muffled by its identity as a rich town.
(All photos by Paul Floyd Blake)