The probation woman had said it was a B&B, which had sounded all right. He’d stayed in B&Bs as a kid, on holiday with his parents in Blackpool and Rhyll – remembers frilly curtains, bacon for breakfast, the smell of the sea when you opened the front door. He doesn’t need to go inside this house to know that it’s not what any sane person would call a B&B.
Not Home is a collaboration between myself, photographer Stephen King and the charity Justlife who work with people living in unsupported temporary accommodation in Manchester and Brighton. It is a novella, published alongside a companion text, also titled Not Home: a series of true-life stories with accompanying portraits.
If you would like to make a donation to Justlife in return you can do so through their Justgiving site, but the most important thing to us is that you read and talk about the book.
Meet the residents of ‘a shit B&B in a half-forgotten bit of East Manchester’ – Ken’s words, and he ought to know, he’s lived in room 1 for twenty-two years. Angel’s in room 3 – she’s got herself clean and has a plan to get her little boy back from social services. Room 4 is Jimmy, who’s just heard that the man he put inside ten years ago is out and looking for him. Mike in room 5 is the newest resident, fresh out of jail with every intention of changing his life for the better – he just needs to stay away from the lads, and the drugs. Piotr and Charles share room 6. Piotr is a Polish labourer with a bust-up shoulder; Charles, a Londoner, has been sent to Manchester by housing services because they have nowhere for him to stay in the capital – he just wants to get back to his kids. And room 2? That’s Ewan’s room, but he’s gone missing…
The story behind the story
Over 75,000 people in the UK live in unsupported temporary accommodation (UTA), 50,000 of those in B&BS. These are vulnerable people living in insecure and often dangerous accommodation – no locks on their doors; no access to cooking facilities; dirty bathrooms; damp rooms; constant interruptions; aggression and violence; drugs and alcohol. This housing contributes to deteriorating mental and physical health, social isolation and premature death.
I spent two years talking to people at Justlife’s drop-ins in Manchester and visiting the B&Bs they were living in. I planned the novella ‘in public’, with a notice board full of ideas and questions on display at Justlife, and asked residents to read and comment on drafts throughout the writing process. The book is dedicated to the nine residents using Justlife’s Manchester services who died over the course of the project.
At the heart of Not Home is a desire to enable people to emotionally connect with the experience of living in this kind of substandard housing. Justlife will use the book as part of their campaigning and policy work, and as a novelist, I am excited about having created a piece of work that has the potential to effect change. Stories allow us to step into someone else’s shoes, however uncomfortable that might be. My hope is that the people who read the book will both enjoy and be outraged by it, and might be inspired them to make their own voices heard in the fight for change.
If you want to get your hands on one of the 1,000 copies we are giving away for free please email nothome [at] justlife [dot] org [dot] uk