FEATURE: Protohome | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by John Hipkin

Over the last few months, the UK government has been at loggerheads over whether leaving or staying in the EU will help the ‘working class’, all the while forgetting that on-going austerity measures are already creating serious issues for the country’s poorest people. While the politicians carry on squabbling, others are actively looking for practical, sustainable solutions, and if you’ve been through Ouseburn in Newcastle recently, you may well have come across such an idea: Protohome.

“Protohome is a self-build housing prototype created by members of Crisis, the national charity for single homelessness, Xsite architecture and Tilt Artistic Services.” Explains Julia Heslop, the artist leading the project. “Protohome emerged from my art practice and PhD research into self-help housing in Albania, where self-building is everywhere. In the UK we’ve become removed from housing processes and people on the lowest incomes have very little choice in housing, so it’s about how we might use housing as a learning tool, and connect it up to problems of intergenerational unemployment and rising homelessness.”

It’s a fascinating premise, and the more you look into it the more you realise that there is a wealth of self-sustaining, low cost possibilities that can be implemented to provide both homes and practical skills that can generate employment, which is all being completely overlooked by the current political zeitgeist. If a group of unqualified people who’ve experienced homelessness can attend some workshops on joinery, and come together to build a project like this in just two weeks, why aren’t more people doing this? Julia agrees. “The project was designed to be a provocation for the city – to provide a simple example for how we might provide more affordable and participatory housing for people in the most housing need, and show the potential of what you can do in two weeks and with very little money (around £6,000) and basic woodwork skills/tools and a simple building system.”

Protohome emerged from my art practice and PhD research into self-help housing in Albania, where self-building is everywhere

As well as being open to the public three days a week, further food for thought is provided through a series of free upcoming performances, public forums, film screenings and artistic classes, all examining ideas and impacts of gentrification, tax avoidance, the politics of land development and more throughout July.

With the project due to finish at the end of July, what’s the next stage? “We’ve learnt a lot to take forward. Crisis are interested in extending the project, and I feel that there is a possibility to go one step further and make ‘working’ housing, but this depends on land and finance and depends on us being able to start concrete discussions with the council.” Says Julia. “The reaction has been great and there’s been a lot of interest. It’s vital that this project is able to influence how we imagine housing futures for low income groups in Newcastle and in the process challenge the ‘blandscape’ of student flats and standardised housing developments.”

Here’s hoping some of those bickering politicians might be taking a stroll through the Ouseburn too this summer.

Events taking place in July include:

FILM SCREENING: Estate, A Reverie – Thursday 7th July

Filmed over seven years, Estate, a Reverie documents the fall of Hackney housing estate, revealing and celebrating the resilience of residents who are profoundly overlooked by media representations and wider social responses. Interweaving intimate portraits with the residents’ own historical re-enactments, landscape and architectural studies and dramatised scenes, Estate, a Reverie asks how we might resist being framed exclusively through class, gender, ability or disability, and even through geography.

A week of art classes hosted by Wunderbar – Monday 11th-Thursday 14th July

Artists are very good at leading exploration in subjects of which they are not experts, and learning and sharing their discoveries creatively as they go. This curiosity is often the inspiration for their artistic endeavours. Artists also often collaborate with ‘experts’ in different fields – residencies in science labs or businesses for example. The creative approach that artists can offer may enable professionals to see their work in a new light, whilst offering new perspectives to those outside the field of expertise.

Taking place over four days four artists will conceive and run unusual research, workshops and/or professional development projects that they themselves wish to explore, which are freely open to the public.

Performance from Martin Heslop, Jeff Young, Ribbon Road and more – Friday 15th July

A series of performances by composer Martin Heslop, playwright Jeff Young and band Ribbon Road examine the impacts of regeneration/gentrification, ‘managed decline’ and empty homes on neighbourhoods in Liverpool and County Durham.

FILM SCREENING: The UK Gold – Thursday 28th July

Mark Donne’s film The UK Gold follows the dramatic battle of a vicar from a small parish in the London Borough of Hackney as he goes head to head with an ancient and mighty heavyweight, revealing its central status as the tax-haven nerve centre of the world.

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