London charity publishes pivotal graphic novel

A London art school for individuals affected by homelessness has released what is believed to be the world’s first graphic novel written by homeless people.

Without a job, a place to live, or any substantial financial support, the lives of homeless people are erased all too easily from our global narrative. How does one combat this? A London community organization believes that this involves getting homeless people pens and paper to share their stories.

The Accumulate Art School for the Homeless has published, according to their website, “the world’s first ever graphic novel created by people affected by homelessness.” Released in October 2020, The Book of Homelessness is a 160-page anthology of poetry, collage, illustration, and personal essay co-authored by 18 different individuals who have experienced homelessness.

Accumulate conducts fundraising work to provide creative workshops at eight different hostels across London. The charity’s origin story is as heartwarming as the services it provides. According to its website, Accumulate was established in 2013 when the North London YMCA hostel reached out to Marice Cumber, a founder of an arts festival in Crouch End. Cumber and young hostel residents agreed to plan an exhibition at Crouch End Festival to display the creative talent of those affected by homelessness. Cumber and fellow volunteers began the Preserves with a Purpose Project, making and selling jars of jam out of discarded fruit to pay for the creative workshops needed to prepare for the festival. The Accumulate Art School for the Homeless was born. The organization has now moved away from jam-making in favor of other independent fundraising work.
Tutors and students at nearby Ravensbourne College head Accumulate’s art courses, providing instruction in photography, film, creative writing, and jewelry-making, amongst others creative pursuits. Encouraging art as a means of social and personal advancement for homeless people, Accumulate has awarded eight university scholarships since 2016. It is the hope that sales of The Book of Homelessness will fund a ninth.

The Book of Homelessness comes out of a three-month course at Shoreditch’s Autograph Gallery. Providing uncut, raw, and candid portrayal of the human condition, the graphic novel gives voice to specific life experiences that are so often obscured by the catch-all “homeless” label. For this reason, The Book of Homelessness has received critical acclaim—notably from Academy Award-winning actor Colin Firth who, in a review on the book’s back cover, claims that “the fact that these beautiful, personal works are the expressions of our neighbours makes it untenable to ignore them ever again.”

The book can be purchased on Accumulate’s website and is currently selling for £25.