The Homeless Library (2014-17)


The first-ever history of British homelessness, told in a library of 70 books handmade by people with experience of homelessness. The books, which describe lived experience in interviews, poetry, art, were exhibited at the Houses of Parliament, the Southbank, Brighton Dome and Manchester Central Library.

70 oral history interviews were undertaken for the Library; all of the interviews were serialised on the arthur+martha blog and 15 were included in a virtual catalogue of the Library, which also featured footnotes by homeless people, older people, and academics, and contextual essays by social historians, a book artist, and poet/educationalist Professor Jeffrey Robinson.

You can view the full length documentary about The Homeless Library here.

Making The Homeless Library helped some people to lighten their load. Two participants attribute this project to no longer being homeless. The temporary place of safety this project offered was making art and poetry. The shared delight of the creative sessions was uplifting to witness. To offer people a short time away from fear, from addiction, from intimidation was perhaps the most valuable gift that we had to bring. Self-expression is one of the deepest human needs, it defines identity, allows change and brings joy.

“It’s put me back on the ladder to life.”  (Danny Collins, participant)

The Homeless Library was launched at the Houses of Parliament in May 2016, where they were welcomed by the Undersecretary of State Marcus Jones and Ann Coffey MP who listened to speeches by homeless participants. It made its public debut at The Southbank, London, accompanied by an online ebook. This exhibition was reviewed in The Lancet as a significant contribution to the welfare of homeless people. The Homeless Library went on to be exhibited at numerous conferences. Bury Art Museum hosted an exhibition and handmade books from the Library are now in their permanent collection the Text Archive at the gallery. A selection of the books is permanently displayed at the Booth Centre, where many of them were made. 



180 people aged 18 – 95


2017 Pop-up exhibitions at The Booth Centre, The People’s History Museum and Gallery Oldham. Audience number 135

2017 Archives+ at Manchester Central Library. Audience approx  57,000

2016/17 Bury Art Museum. Audience number 5980

2016 University of Glasgow Audience number 60

2016 The Poetry Library, Festival Hall, The Southbank, London. Audience number 4500.

2016 The Houses of Parliament, London. Audience approx 700

Total exhibition audience 68,375

“I was honoured to be in parliament yesterday to see first-hand the amazing artwork that has been produced for the homeless library. This feels like a really important moment – giving voice to a marginalised group and telling their hidden history in the heart of Westminster. We are proud to have supported it with National Lottery players’ money.”     Sara Hilton, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North West


On-Line Audience  40,000 and growing

More Information

Free ebook

Blogged interviews, evaluations, session feedback, news arthur-and-martha

Documentary Film   HomelessLibrary  and

On-line portfolio arthur-and-martha

Poem collection arthur-and-martha-poems

Social Media #HomelessLibrary

Sound recordings

Instagram arthur.and.martha

Media and Press coverage

BBC Manchester Radio 2017, Interview with Philip Davenport

BBC Breakfast News 2017

That’s Manchester  TV 2017 The Homeless Library

The Lancet 2016 the-lancet

Time Out 2016

Manchester Council 2017

Manchester Histories Festival 2017 manchesterhistoriesfestival

Loving Manchester 2017


2016 Lois Blackburn and Philip Davenport presented to House of Lords about the project for the Case Study for All Party Parliamentary Group  artshealthandwellbeing

“Service users and staff have taken part in The Homeless Library, this has been an empowering experience for all involved and one that will live long in the memory. Providing homeless and disadvantaged people opportunities to get involved in creative experiences is very meaningful, it helps people raise their confidence and their ability to work positively around areas of their lives that present problems and barriers.  The Wellspring has been delighted to have worked with arthur+ on this project.”       Jonathan Billings, Manager of The Wellspring homeless resource centre


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