Emma Carboni interviews Marice Cumber, who is the founder of Accumulate, a charity which helps support and encourage young homeless people to explore their creativity, visually portray their opinions and gain employability skills. Accumulate run photography, film-making, illustration and creative writing workshops for long term homeless residents in hostels all over London.
The residents often come from difficult, complicated and diverse backgrounds. By learning control and creative expression through photography, they develop their self esteem, blossoming into young creatives with a profound and challenging perspective on modern life in London. Accumulate shows the importance of artistic and cultural activities as vital and healing pathways to human expression and development - art for all.
Annually they hold a photography exhibition where the prints are sold, and some of these photographs are interspersed with the text.
How did you come up with the idea of starting Accumulate?
It all started with wanting to include the homeless residents of Crouch End’s YMCA hostel into the local community summer festival, which I am a director of.
The residents were often bored with little to engage or motivate them and needed something exciting and challenging to do that was about them, their voice and their expression. They were also part of the community but didn’t feel part of it or engage with it in any way. So the solution I came up with was to run photography sessions and workshops at the hostel and then put on our own exhibition as part of the festival which we would invite all of the community to.
Now in its third year the charity has grown exponentially. This summer the Accumulate crew held an impressive exhibition at The Guardian, King’s Cross, curated by Luke Dodd and Brett Rodgers OBE from the Photographers’ Gallery. The event drew a sophisticated arts crowd and gained airtime on ITV’s London News and across print media.
We now have workshops running across the capital with the North and East London YMCA Hostels, Evolve Housing in South London, Freedom from Torture and Stonewall Housing, and we don’t just do photography any more, but also film-making, illustration and creative writing, so are expanding all the time!
What drove you to start Accumulate?
My background is in creative education and enterprise. I have had my own design business, taught in art schools, set up online business advice schemes which have reached 10's of thousands of creative people (students and graduates) all of whom wanted to make money from their creativity, and have even taught offenders in Maidstone prison how to set up a creative business.
Accumulate grew from this – its success demonstrates how you can use creative led education to really make a difference in a very localised way. Education does just that, someone comes in knowing "y" and leaves knowing "x" and it doesn't matter what else happens in their lives, "x" can never be taken away from them, and it could change their whole life.
I love seeing the transition in the Accumulate participants – how they "internally" change, they have confidence, they start to feel good about themselves and become motivated to achieve. All these feelings just didn’t exist before – their transition is my motivation – it's quite emotional at times, and also quite tough, but absolutely every bit of it is worth it.
Who are the people attending the Accumulate courses?
The participants often have backgrounds of poor mental health, substance dependency, histories of abuse and dealings with the criminal justice system. The course provides much needed structure to their week and escape from their actual situation.
Many are now thriving – moving into their own accommodation, finding employment, coming off benefits – ultimately gaining the motivation they need to make positive changes and steps to move their lives forward.
What have been some of your highlights so far?
The Accumulate group’s photographs have been tweeted about by Tinnie Tempah, featured in a Barbican exhibition and written about in The Guardian. The group attended London Fashion Week and made it onto the pages of Vogue, carried out session photography at the Roundhouse, and created a media storm with a Little Mix backing dancer. We’ve won a film competition and also produced our own magazine called DECAY with words and images by the young people. We’ve also just received charitable status… there have been so many amazing things that have happened I could go on and on!
One of the nicest things to happen is that Sam Adesanya who took part in the Accumulate project has now received a scholarship to study design and digital media at Ravensbourne Arts College. He’s also doing some work experience on a magazine, which will be amazing for his portfolio, got himself a job at the local cinema and moved into his own accommodation. An amazing outcome and change in someone’s life.
What’s really rewarding is that this year, Sam will be helping on the Accumulate project – helping others, who were in the position he was a year ago, to learn about photography and develop their skills. We also have another previous participant, Dan Fifield from the Evolve hostel in South London, helping on the project. This is what the project is all about – learning and using your learning to improve your life and those of others!
You’ve just won an award – tell us about that?
Amazingly I have just won Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2016 at the Leadership Awards – it’s just fantastic to get the recognition and I was blown away to even be nominated!
The lead judge, Beverley Jullien, Chief Executive at Mothers’ Union, told me that ‘Accumulate came across as an organisation set up to meet a clear local need, which has engaged multiple different stakeholders to deliver positive outcomes together for the young people in the hostels.’
She particularly liked the fact that beneficiaries were enabled to gain a range of life, business and self-motivation skills, equipping them to take charge of their own lives.
What hopes do you have for the future?
I hope to continue to grow Accumulate. We are now working with 9 hostels – which is amazing considering how young the project is, and this year are offering two scholarships for Accumulate participants to be fully funded to study Design and Digital Media at Ravensbourne, which is great too! But my long-term aim is for Accumulate to have its own studio space where young , homeless people could all meet up and explore their creativity together – a sort of alternative art school that was a great place to hang out at too!
The exhibition is at The Guardian in King’s Cross and runs from 12th May until 3rd June (10am – 6pm).