Stories of what didn’t work can be as instructive in the long run as things that did. So I’m leaving this here, in case there may yet be more story to tell.
For some time now I’ve been thinking of writing something on here about Coming Home. For many reasons, some of which I’ll explain, the time’s never seemed quite right. But stories need telling, otherwise how do they become stories? So here goes, the Story of Coming Home:
Whatever kind of maker you are, a maker of things, tools, songs, stories, poems or paintings, the most difficult thing to do is to get going. So many of us are full of the big even beautiful ideas, aren’t we? But how many of them ever amount to something you can show or use or put in a story, let alone live in?
I’ve been thinking about this, this getting going, as some friends and I from The Beautiful Ideas Co have been talking about what Coming Home does next. And as I’ve also been reading a novel by Colm Toíbín called ‘The South’ where, struggling to get it written, he asks an artist fiend Barrie Cooke, how he does beginnings:
“You make a mark” he said, as he gestured the making of an almost random mark with an imaginary paint-brush.
Well at Coming Home we made a mark. The empty home in Walton where we helped to transform one house and two family’s lives in 2017.
When we’d had our big idea, the artist Jayne Lawless and I, this house was exactly the sort of thing and place we were thinking of. Inherited by its owner Clare from her Dad, wanted by new people who’d been paying well over the odds to the property market, and needing us and our idea to transform it into a genuinely affordable home their baby could grow up in, with a securely permanent tenancy.
So we made our mark. We got going. Sooner than we’d expected and not with all the tools we knew we really needed. Going with mutual trust and handshakes, for example, well before the formal legalities that got worked out for future homes much later. But we did it, all of us. The owner and her family, the new tenants and their baby, the builders, the artist and me. We made a home and a future out of an empty house. And we loved every minute of it.
“You make a mark.”
We’d got going. And by the end of March that year the new family had moved into their home in Walton and were telling the story of their own coming home, along with owner Clare, to one of our big supporters, Claire Hamilton on BBC Radio Merseyside.
“We’re about the human right to a home, we’ve made one and if this is all we ever do it’ll do” I remember thinking at the end of that day.
But we were confident there would be more.
With all the publicity we thought we’d soon find our next empty home to re-create. But as spring that year turned into summer we didn’t. For a long time we thought we’d found another 20 or more homes, in Anfield this time. But an investor pulled out, their decision not our’s, and so those homes – and the people who’d not get to live in them – were left to the greed and the random chance of the property market.
So our summer going into autumn 2017 was, as it turned out, a time of searching, sorting, working, waiting, frustration and even illness, for me. Brought low, to my own surprise, by the stress of it all. I’ve written about this and the depression that followed already on here. So I won’t repeat it.
While I was ill, Jayne not only carried on with running Coming Home but also set up and ran her own gallery show. Though we’d both been thinking about doing this all year and had sorted out the loan of a wonderful empty factory space from Jason Abbott, its more than gracious owner, when the time got close and I was ill, well, it was difficult. Maybe I didn’t have the nerve to go through with it or maybe my judgement was sound in telling me ‘no, not with just the one house done, it’s not enough, not right?’ Either way it divided us.
Jayne insisted it was right and loved the doing and the purpose of it. As you can read in her own account of ‘The Dead Pigeon Gallery and beyond’ where she tells the story of how she and her assembled group of artists responded to the plasterers and everyone else from Penny Lane Builders who’d literally made their mark and got the home created. Beautifully done all.
By late November that year it felt like time to get going with what might come next for Coming Home. Not with Jayne sadly, who’d decided her time as one of Coming Home was over.
But knowing what did and didn’t work from this story so far and holding the aims and principles Coming Home will always stand for, discussions happened in our first Coming Home house, to begin making up the story of what could come next. Remaking the structure, remodelling the work and reimagining the dream. But still Coming Home. Still about helping people create better lives, in secure homes they can properly afford.
(In the event I too left the still to be written second chapter of Coming Home. But someday, one day, who knows? It’s still a Beautiful Idea…)
Having written what’s here I pick up Colm Toíbín’s ‘South’ again to find him writing of ‘the jaggedness and intensity over time’ of the book’s gradual creation. ‘Jaggedness and intensity’ over those two years was how it felt with Coming Home too. Not a smooth bland story with all the awkward edges hacked off or hidden. But real life. Jagged, intense, human. Like it mattered.
I’m really glad we had a go. And grateful to everyone involved. Particularly Jayne Lawless and Jennifer Graham. So I’ll leave these words, this story here.
Meanwhile Coming Home Liverpool is parked, for now. But I still think it contains possibilities.