How does Shelter show the impact of the work we do? Finding or helping someone keep a home can transform their life, but the full impact of the range of support we offer is difficult to explain. Shelter Lancashire has a project that is attempting to do just this and it’s called Humans of Lancashire.
The project was started two years ago by Hope Barnes, who was a social media volunteer at Shelter’s Blackburn hub at the time. She came up with the idea to show what the Blackburn team were doing that was different to other Shelter’s hubs.
Humans of Lancashire is inspired by the photo blog Humans of New York, which has chronicled the lives of New Yorkers through photo portraits and written stories since 2010. Hope’s idea was to use the Shelter Lancashire social media accounts to share stories about the people Shelter has helped in a similar format.
‘People need to hear these stories,’ Hope said. ‘People need their perception changed on homelessness and housing issues. So, we need to put our clients’ stories out there.’ Hope thought that something similar would be a good approach for telling the stories of the people Shelter supports.
‘When you read Humans of New York, you don’t just see one picture, you hear this whole amazing back story and you’re like, “Wow, I can’t believe someone has had a life like that.” You feel sympathy for someone you have never met before.’
Hub manager Emma Garner agrees that this project was a great way to highlight the work Shelter Lancashire does, saying: ‘We’re doing this project because everyone is human and everyone needs help sometimes. Whether it’s with housing, whether it’s with debt problems or anything like that. That’s what we’re here to do.’ Emma hopes that the photos will encourage other people to seek help for their housing problems.
Hope and Emma asked Shelter Lancashire staff to suggest clients who would want their stories told.
At first it was hard to find people willing to take part. The story of someone’s housing problems can be painful and many people were reluctant to share. ‘People don’t want to relive their story again and again,’ Emma said. ‘I can imagine it’s quite difficult for them. People want to move on with their lives.’
Despite this, the team were able to find nine people Shelter had helped who were willing to be photographed and to share their stories for the project. They also recruited a volunteer, Daniel Carter, who is a local photographer and who agreed to take pictures for Humans of Lancashire.
‘In the last few years I have been particularly enamoured with portrait photography and particularly authentic and genuine photography,’ Daniel said.
Daniel found that capturing a Shelter service user’s story for Humans of Lancashire was about more than just taking their photo. It involved getting to know the person and making a connection with them. ‘It became quite clear that building up a rapport with the subject is a really important part of the process of getting a photograph that might be quiet, it might be understated, but it’s a genuine image and a genuine representation of that person,’ he said.
Daniel is now a social media volunteer for Shelter Lancashire, as Hope was before. Hope now works for Shelter Lancashire as an Information Resource Officer. Daniel has promoted the Humans of Lancashire stories and photographs via Shelter’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. The photos have also been printed and turned into posters. ‘It’s nice to click on Instagram and see some of the really supportive comments that have come from members of the public,’ Daniel said.
Emma hopes that these pictures will help Shelter Lancashire recruit volunteers and reach more people with housing problems. ‘We’re hoping that it spreads the word and takes down a few barriers that people might have about whether their issue is supported,’ she said.
The Humans of Lancashire portraits are personal stories about nine individuals that Shelter has helped, but they also represent many other people who have housing problems. ‘There’s many more like them up and down the country,’ Hope said. ‘It helps the public’s perception of what we are doing and how we can help.’