Jill Eastland and Emma
Emma was very excited about the True Tales for Change project and immediately understood its potential, coming up with the idea of putting a giant rag doll in different places on the streets of Cambridge, where she had to live when she was sleeping rough. She had a desire to communicate with people about what that experience was really like, to help them to better understand what it is like to be homeless. We discussed what had gone wrong in her life and in society for this to happen to someone when they are forced to leave home at such a young age. She was just 16 when she had to leave home. Emma became homeless the first time because of family abuse and a second time because of a dangerous relationship. These are the main reasons for women becoming homeless. The places that she has had to live included an underground car park, the magistrates court, the Metro Bank and Primark.
She also lived in a tent before that, but she hated that because of all the creepy crawlies. She was amazed and positive about the kindness of strangers, but also had some very scary and difficult experiences. I was impressed by how kind and strong she was. Emma and I worked for a couple of weeks on making the rag doll look more like her, finding the right clothes to dress it, adjusting the face, painting the eyes green, adding an eyebrow piercing, buying a wig etc. Then we needed to raid the charities and ask friends to recreate the things she had with her when she was living on the streets. This included, cardboard to put on the ground, an inflatable mattress, an old sleeping bag, blankets including one given to her by her nephews, a backpack, a suitcase on wheels, some umbrellas (which she said were really important to help keep her dry) and a cup.
We then took the rag doll and all her paraphernalia to the different Cambridge landmarks where she had lived on the streets and photographed it in different positions. I think that the work that Emma has created is incredibly powerful. I loved her ideas and felt privileged to work with her to help realise them. This is really Emma’s work and she wanted her name to be on the work, so that people know that she is the artist and the idea of using the rag doll in this way was hers. Through hard work and determination, Emma managed to save to buy a boat home of her own, which she loves. However, the future for Emma is still insecure until she is able to get a permanent mooring and because of the current benefits system. It is a travesty that in a city as rich as Cambridge, we can’t look after our young people and provide them with the home and money they need to live a decent, safe and healthy life.