The Reverend Canon Andrew Bryant, Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care at Norwich Cathedral, discusses the appearance of a special house in the Cathedral.
After a helter-skelter, what next might you find in Norwich Cathedral? The answer is a house. At first glance it might be tempting to assume that this is a rather happy dwelling, a house wrapped in multi-coloured scarves. But behind the seeming cosy image is another story. This is a house that should shame us.
To coincide with World Homelessness Day on 10th October, St Martin’s Housing Trust, in partnership with Norwich Cathedral, have built a house of scarves – 4,677 scarves to be precise, one scarf for each person who slept rough in England last year. Each scarf will be different in colour and texture but among the bright colours, if you look carefully you will find 600 black scarves, one for each person who died sleeping rough in England in 2018.
Rough sleeping is, of course, only the visible tip of the iceberg of homelessness. Out of immediate sight are those trapped in bed and breakfast accommodation or sofa surfing. And when these options run out then the only option is to sleep on the streets.
Although we talk of “the homeless”, the reality is rather a myriad of different stories, of particular individual circumstances, many of which could happen to any of us, which leads to people sleeping on the streets.
People who are homeless should be accepted as individuals and not prejudged by their situation or challenges. Each ‘brick’ of the knitted house is unique and represents a person. Often homeless people experience a loss of identity so the diversity of the scarves reminds us of the distinctive and individual nature of each individual and their story.
New people are arriving on the streets all the time, usually local people. Thankfully rough sleeping is actually reducing in Norwich, due to the work of the Pathways team, which is a consortium of organisations who work together to reduce rough sleeping in the city. Official figures for the last 3 years are: 2016: 34, 2017: 30, 2018: 22. Charities such as St Martins do a lot of prevention work, often in the community and supporting people with poor mental health. St Martins runs groups and activities for people who have enduring mental illness – and it’s frequently the creative activities, such as knitting, that help people feel better, more confident and connected to others.
Winter is now just around the corner when the experience of sleeping rough becomes even bleaker and harder. Norfolk Community Foundation will shortly be launching its annual Surviving Winter appeal. Other charities too will be increasing their efforts at this time of year.
Nevertheless whatever the time of year, living as we do in one of the richest countries in the world, it should shock and shame us that, according to the housing charity Shelter, 320,000 were recorded as homeless in 2018. It is hoped the presence of this knitted house in the Cathedral will challenge all who see it to ask how we can overcome the inequalities that beset our society.
The Knitted House will be on display until the end of October at Norwich Cathedral. Visitors are welcome to take away a scarf in return for a donation towards the work of St Martins.