A room of one's own

I started a new mural this month for the amazing charity St Mungo’s, who run many different kinds of schemes and campaigns to tackle homelessness across England.

One project, Housing First, helps people caught in a cycle of street homelessness, sofa surfing, prisons and hospitals by flipping the traditional model on its head – instead of focusing on recovery first then finding independent accommodation, it offers the security of having a home. The charity have found that providing a secure base boosts people’s motivation and enables them to focus on their recovery. 

One of their hostels in Hammersmith has been working with residents to improve their outside space, turning it from a rather dreary alleyway filled with bins into a garden area within which residents can safely and comfortably rest and socialise with one another. I was approached by Claire, the project manager of this initiative, to see if I could work with the residents to design a mural to help bring their new garden space to life. Of course I jumped at the chance! and after a couple of meetings with staff and residents created a design to fill one of the walls with bracken fern and dandelions.

Why these plants? Well, conversations with the residents made it clear that they wanted a work of art that not only brightened the space but that also spoke to the journey they are all on at St Mungo’s. Plants being my thing, I brought botanical symbolism for discussion and everyone liked the idea that whilst these plants are considered weeds, they also represent strength and resilience (dandelions grow through the cracks in pavements, bracken ferns grow almost anywhere - even dry stone walls), hope (absolutely everyone has that childhood memory of blowing dandelion seeds to make a wish) and adaptability, self-protection and time (think of the furling and unfurling of the ancient fern that has been on earth for 350 million years).

When the mural is finished, residents will be able to sit underneath the oversized plants in a kind of cocoon of foliage and colour.

Here’s Claire next to the mural, half way to completion. The dandelion is pretty punchy no?! #notawallflower

After disaster strikes—lava flow, say, or forest fire—the fern is often the first to take root. In 2006 the Washington Post reported on a colony of maidenhair ferns thriving in a D.C. Metro station, some 150 feet underground. “They’re survivors,” says Michelle Bundy, curator of the Hardy Fern Foundation in Federal Way, Washington. “They’re tough.”
— 'ANCIENT BEAUTY' by By Leah Eskin, Dora Galitzki and Victoria Ross
 St Mungo’s Hammersmith Assistant Project Manager, Claire, viewing the wall midway through painting.

St Mungo’s Hammersmith Assistant Project Manager, Claire, viewing the wall midway through painting.