I hear stories of horror and of incredible resilience on a daily basis. At GOOD, our clients work in some of the poorest countries in the world. They provide aid in places where conflict has torn people’s lives to shreds or where natural disasters, or political injustice leave life prospects limited to simply surviving.
It’s hard to hear stories of parents not being able to feed their children. But it’s incredible to think that this might be happening to the family living next door to me, in the estate across the road or to the mother sat next to me on the bus.
In 2017, as part of Giving Tuesday, we launched a call for proposals from charities that wouldn’t otherwise have the funds to work with an agency. The Childhood Trust’s proposal stood out because it was so simple and powerful. They’re a small but influential charity that helps to support the 700,000 vulnerable children living in poverty in London.
The goal was to spark meaningful conversations about poverty and injustice in some of London’s wealthiest areas. We came up with the idea to create a photography book that would take a ‘behind the doors’ look at the lives of children living in poverty, with a particular focus on each child’s bedroom.
We worked with the acclaimed photographer Katie Wilson to document over 30 families’ homes, in boroughs across London – including some of the wealthiest. The images sit alongside first-hand narratives of the families.
The picture it paints is of families on the edges of society, struggling to provide the most basic needs of their children.
There are recurring themes of abuse, trafficking, slavery and forced marriage. Many of the people featured have met extreme adversity and yet they are doing what they can to survive. A mother washes her family’s clothes in the shower and stores what food she has in the bathroom. A child balances his homework on the toilet seat.
Katie’s photographs offer a snapshot of the harshest of realities faced by countless families living in a city swelled with wealth. Many of the bedrooms are devoid of any personal possessions. One image shows a bed and cot in a kitchen. The mother shares this one room with her daughter. Another image shows two bunk beds in a room only just big enough to fit them. The room sleeps four siblings but shows no other sign of it being a children’s bedroom. It is devoid of any toys. There are no posters on the walls.
Most of the families can’t afford anything beyond the basics of life. Others are forced to move from bedsit to bedsit waiting to find a permanent home.
The families offered us a window into their lives, to their most personal of spaces, not because they had to but because they want to. They want people to see how they are forced to live.
We wanted to make sure we made an honest portrayal of their lives. We wanted the families to feel like they had ownership of the project. It was at times a painfully collaborative process, but I think the outcome was so much better for it.
I had the opportunity to present the book to some of the families to gain their approval. What struck me was their quiet assuredness that the project must lead to change. They want everyone, particularly politicians, to know the shocking reality they face.
It has been humbling working on Bedrooms of London. The families offered us a window into their lives, to their most personal of spaces. And I feel a huge responsibility to not let them down.
It has made me thankful for what I do have and very aware that this could happen to any of us. All it would take is one bad relationship. One illness in the family. One lost job.
Any of us could have a bedroom like this.