The Story of Coming Home: So far

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:

Chapter 1

Photograph by Jane MacNeil

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.’ I love Colm Toíbín’s writing. He’s a near contemporary and I often find valuable thoughts about life and the living of it from reading his books.

In ‘The South’ I’ve found a particularly relevant gem. It’s in his afterword, where he writes about how hard he’d had to search for the answer to how to get this, his first novel, going.

Being a story he’d wanted to move around Ireland and Catalonia, abstractedly painting their emotional and historical landscapes he talked to an Irish artist, Barrie Cooke, about how he did 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’ve definitely made a mark. The empty home in Walton where we’ve helped to transform one house and two family’s lives this year.

When we 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 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.

The Walton team. Andrew, Amy, Max, Jayne, Steve and me (hands only). Photograph by Jane MacNeil.

“You make a mark.”

We’d got going. And by the end of March this 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 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.

It nearly was.

With all the publicity we thought we’d soon find our next home to re-create. But as spring this year turned into summer we didn’t. For a long time we thought we’d found another 18 homes, in Anfield this time. But an investor pulled out, their decision not our’s, and they haven’t happened. Or not yet anyway.

So our summer going into autumn was 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 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 my judgement was telling me ‘no, not with just the one house done, it’s not enough and 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.

Chapter 2

Now it’s late November and, many conversations later, it’s time to get going with what comes next for Coming Home. Not with Jayne sadly, who’s decided her time as one of Coming Home is now done.

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 on Friday last week, in our first Coming Home house, to begin making up the story of what comes 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.

The ideas we have so far are beautiful and I’m not going to tell you what they are. Not yet, because they still need working on by more people.

But in doing this writing down of the story so far, this is me, Coming Home’s story teller making the ‘almost random mark’ that quietly begins the second chapter.

We are Coming Home.

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 these last two years now is how it feels with Coming Home too. Not a smooth bland story with all the awkward edges hacked off or hidden. But real life. Jagged, intense, human and joyful. Like it matters.

Back soon with the continuing story of Coming Home.

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