Bedrooms exhibition a wake-up call
A new photo exhibition at the Foundling Museum highlights the plight of families living in poverty in the capital
08 February, 2019 — By Jane Clinton
A cot stand by a bed in Jane’s bedroom – part of the Bedrooms of London exhibition. Photo: Katie Wilson
IT is the tragedy that is happening in plain sight. According to recent figures, 700,000 children are currently living below the poverty line in our capital.
Photographer Katie Wilson’s new photo-documentary exhibition, Bedrooms of London, at The Foundling Museum, looks at the living conditions of some of these children and their families.
The photographs are shown alongside first-hand narratives from families.
Created in partnership with London’s child poverty charity, The Childhood Trust, the exhibition lays bare the damaging consequences for children arising from the shortage of social housing in London.
In one photograph there is a cot next to a bed. Conditions are cramped. There is barely room to move. Every surface is used for storage. Two little balloons are the only glimpse of decoration in what is a barely functional bedroom.
The cot belongs to Jane*. She lives in this small bedroom with her mother Amelie*. Cooking facilities are limited in this tiny space, but that is not the worst of their problems. Mother and baby struggle to sleep as there are nightly parties in the hostel where they live. There are no other families in the hostel. It is not a peaceful home as many of their neighbours are in the grip of substance abuse.
Then there is the room with the stencilled words: “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.” It is a poignant acknowledgement of this family’s straitened circumstances.
This is where Adam*, who is nine months old sleeps with his mum Emily* and dad Martin* in the living room with his sister Patricia*, 10, and brothers Bradley*, six and Harry* three. The family also have to eat here as there’s nowhere else to sit.
Katie admits that photographing the families left her with conflicting emotions.
There was, she admits, a “mix of sadness at the bleakness of some circumstances” mixed with “optimism at the strength of the families”.
“In particular the single mums doing the very best they can with so little and forgoing so much for their children,” she says.
“The children also have an incredible capacity to just get on with life but the worry is that allowing a generation of children to live in these conditions will have such a negative impact on their futures.”
According to October 2018 figures from the charity Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) there are 14,429 children living in poverty in Camden. (In Islington that figure is 15,199 and in Westminster 12,550).
A child is living in relative poverty if they live in a household “with below 60 per cent of contemporary median income”, according to government measurements.
Bedrooms of London is the result of two years of engagement by The Childhood Trust with families living in every borough of London. A book of photographs in the exhibition, alongside a report on the housing crisis and its impact on children in London, is to be sent to key policy makers, highlighting the challenges facing children and their families.
“I’m a mum and a Londoner and I love London but its such an unforgiving place if you don’t have money,” says Katie.
“I have huge respect for those families living in these difficult circumstances and frustration that we don’t provide a safe, dry, comfortable home for everyone in a city of such obvious wealth.”
She hopes the exhibition, the stories of these families and the report from The Childhood Trust will draw attention to the issue and help people “gain a better understanding of how hard it is for some of our neighbours in London and to see how easy it can be to fall into the trap of poverty and how tough it is to get out.”
• Bedrooms of London, is at The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, February 8-May 5 2019. For more information call 0207841 3600 or visit www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk
* All names have been changed to protect their identities.