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July 17, 2017
July 17, 2017
Each Summer in London’s Crouch End neighborhood, long-time resident Marice Cumber helped organize the community’s arts festival. Here in London, instead of homeless shelters, the term used is hostels and about 170 people rely on Crouch End’s hostel. Four years ago, the hostel was looking for an opportunity to include its residents in the community’s art festival and give them a chance to express themselves.
With an innate passion for the arts and a career working at the local creative college Ravensbourne, Marice made it her mission to find a solution for the homeless people of her community who wanted more opportunities to explore their artistic side.
Today she runs Accumulate, a project targeted at young, homeless people under the age of 30 who come from difficult, complicated and diverse backgrounds. Free, weekly photography workshops are offered for 15-week sessions, leading up to a formal exhibit that showcases everyone's work. Participants learn control and creative expression through photography, while developing self-esteem and a new perspective on how they can live and become active members of London's society.
Accumulate shows the importance of artistic and cultural activities as vital and healing pathways to human expression and development. "Everyone should have access to art and have the opportunity to create," Marice says.
In July 2013 she remembers emailing her database of about 1,200 people asking for volunteers to help her at the first workshop.
“Out of all those emails I sent, only one person replied,” she laughs. “The first class was a pop-up portrait class, just to see who would come. We ran it one afternoon and it was so makeshift—we used bedsheets as backdrops and only had one camera and a single set of lights.”
Marice Cumber leads an Accumulate workshop (pictured above).
Accumulate has grown exponentially since then. The organization now helps nine local hostels and continues to look for more ways to offer creativity classes to underprivileged citizens of London.
“We realized photography was the perfect creative outlet for these young homeless people because they could start a dialogue with themselves and the camera. If they took a photograph and it wasn’t any good, they could delete it, so they started to build conversations with each other about what made a great shot and what didn’t,” Marice explains.
Today the workshops are regularly supported by film and photography students that Marice recruited from Ravensbourne College. Lasting friendships are made, motivation and self-confidence is built and both parties gain an insight into each other’s worlds.
“Our weekly photography workshops are run in some of London’s finest art institutions – The Tate Modern, The Barbican, and Somerset House, to name a few,” Marice says. “Within their inspiring walls we invite the homeless residents from nine different hostels across London to come in, get involved, learn, socialize, be challenged, find their confidence and give them a visual voice to express their thoughts and feelings. We have a wealth of professional photographers, artists and tutors who do talks, share their experience, mentor the residents and help them to fulfill their creative potential.”
Students work together at the weekly photography workshops.
Another example of how far the organization has come lies in where the funding comes from. When first starting out, funding was needed to pay for creative workshop materials, so Marice decided that the best option was for Accumulate to raise its own money — by producing a product that was cheap to make, desirable and easy to sell. Homemade jams and chutneys were produced by hand with fruit donated from local community gardens and businesses with fruit that may have gone to waste.
Today, jam isn’t in the picture anymore because Acccumulate has acquired enough donations, volunteers, and funding to sustain itself.
This year the organization is even proudly offering three scholarships for Accumulate participants to apply for at Ravensbourne College. These scholarships are life-changing opportunities that completely expand the possibilities and future for the young homeless people who they are granted to.
Take former Accumulate participant, Sam Adesanya as a prime example of how this organization has changed lives for the better. Now a student at Ravensbourne, last year Sam was awarded the Accumulate scholarship to study in the one year Design and Digital Media Diploma course offered at the college.
“I’ve been part of the Accumulate project for over two years now. Before I was a part of it, I was stuck at the North London YMCA Hostel. Days were tedious and mundane,” Sam says. “It’s a hard living in that sort of environment where everything was stifled. Creatively I was wasting away. However, this all changed when I started attending the weekly workshops with Accumulate.”
He was recently accepted into the Bachelors degree program at Ravensbourne, is a student ambassador for the college, and stays involved with Accumulate as a volunteer at the workshops, helping people who were in his position a year ago. He's left the hostel, moved into his own apartment, and has a part-time job.
Two photographs (above) from Accumlate's 2017 photo exhibit.
Sam is just one example of many Accumulate students who have found enough encouragement and support to pursue independence and a new way of life. Marice’s favorite part of running this organization has been sharing success stories like this one.
“If you believe you can make a big difference whether that’s in the big picture or in a a very localized way, then all it takes is being committed and devoted to that goal,” Marice says. "There's always those moments where you think you could give up, but you carry on and the potential of what you can achieve far outweighs any of the initial struggles you might have to overcome."
As we continue to profile people and include them in the "Roll Up Our Sleeves" Campaign, we couldn't forget about our London store or the people who there contribute to helping their communities. Thanks to Marice for sharing her story.