For an article a few months ago, I spoke to a some individuals in Brighton who have taken it upon themselves to put their creativity to good use and help those in need. I thought these inspiring people deserved some recognition so I had to share this on here.
Bohemian, quirky, artistic: Brighton has creativity at its core.
But It’s a city that is not without social problems, homelessness being one of the biggest. New government figures show that homelessness is at a record high in Brighton and Hove. Homelessness in Brighton has increased by more than 5 times the national rise of 16%, meaning that it now has the second highest homelessness population in the country, second only to Westminster. Local residents have begun to realise that something has to be done. Brighton and its laid back vibe has always been a destination that draws out the creativity in people. Growing in numbers, are individuals and groups utilising their creativity to make a difference to society and tackle Brighton’s social problems head on. Brighton is a city where creativity and charity collide.
For Isabelle Mounet originally from France, now a Brighton resident, the cities growing homelessness struck a cord with her personally. Once homeless herself, Isabelle felt she had to do something to directly help those in the situation that she once faced. she decided to utilise her lifelong passion for knitting to make a small but significance difference.
“I know what it is to be so cold. You can’t sleep when you are so cold” she said. Isabelle was one of the lucky ones; she was only homeless for a few weeks, having received help from the council to get back on her feet. “I am eternally grateful to be in normal life again. It could have turned out very differently” she said. “someone made a difference to me once and I just want to make a difference to others.”
It was this desire to help that prompted her to combine her passion for knitting with helping others. “I used to make lots of scarfs when I was knitting, so I thought I would put them to good use. It was on a Canadian knitting website that Isabelle found out and fell in love with the ‘Pay it forward concept’, where volunteers had left scarves and hats hanging from trees for the homeless and less fortunate to take during winter. She decided to bring this concept to Brighton, and headed down to St Peters church, where a homeless shelter was nearby, tying her knitted scarfs on to the trees with handwritten messages. “I never stayed around to see when they were taken. I think people want to keep there privacy when they take them” she explained. Although intended for the homeless, Isabelle said they are there for the taking. “I put on my card- ‘if you’re feeling down, make yourself happy by taking a scarf’. The idea is that the scarf makes you feel good.”
Another place Isabelle left her scarves was at The A-OK Wall in Hove. Started by Noor Ayoub, the A-OK, (Acts of Kindness) wall, is a place where people can ‘“take what they do need and leave what they don’t.”
Noor came across a video of the concept on youtube, where walls of kindness had begun to spring up all over Iran. “I thought, why don’t we have something like this?” she said. Before Hove, Noor started her first wall in Shoreditch, London which is still standing to date. The wall became not only a place to leave items of clothing for those in need but also a place for people to share their thoughts and feelings by leaving notes on it.
“I found London quite an isolating place because everyone was like, go go go go go” she said. “I wanted to do little birdhouses of positivity because I wanted t
o see if anyone else was feeling the way I was. The amount of notes I got on the wall was amazing. I thought, you know what London is actually alright. It was to show we’re not alone. We’re all on the same journey, all going through the same stuff, we’re just all at different stops on that journey.”
When Noor moved down to Brighton she thought that homelessness felt more concentrated than in London, and decided she needed to do another wall. “I went to the council and they said, you can’t do it, you can’t do it, but I still did it anyway” she laughed. She set up the wall in disused bench shelter near Hove seafront, where she had noticed a lot of homeless people tended to stay near by.
The wall was a way for Noor to feel like she was helping first hand. “I appreciate that with charity shops, they’re doing a good job but not all of the money is going in to them”, she explained. “This way you 100% know its going to a person.
People actually preferred donating at the wall. They knew it was going to be useful and that itself made them feel good about donating and helping out in any way possible.”
The A-ok wall got taken down by the council in 2016 but Noor has no intention of letting it stay that way for long. “Hell yeah i’m bringing it back” she said, “i’m just trying to figure out where the next place will be.”
Although the wall didn’t help reduce Brighton’s homelessness, small acts of kindness like this are vital in ensuring the most vulnerable members of society know that someone is looking out for them. “Literally the hats and scarves used to go in moments” said Noor, who would go by daily to check on the wall and sort through the donations.
“The quality of the stuff given was important because if it was dirty why would I want to give that to someone in need? They want to feel like it’s keeping me warm, it’s making me feel better.”
Along with a new Brighton wall, Noor has plans to open a third wall in Bristol.
Also dedicated to helping Brighton’s homeless are The Purlers, a knitting group based in St Marys Church in Kemp town. The group is one of many like it in Brighton that meet weekly to knit for charity. The group have knitted items for Brighton’s homeless as well as for premature babies at the Trevor Mann baby unit and for the elderly in care homes.
“We feel that we should do something to help others, thats out prime motivation” says Margaret Green, a St Mary’s member for over 30 years. “it’s social as well as being useful and it helps welcome people into the church. We welcome non knitters also who would like to come and try learning a new skill .”
Groups like The Purlers wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the people that felt they ought to do something to make a difference. Be it those who volunteer their time or those who donate wool, or clothes like at Noors A-OK wall.
There are so many causes in Brighton combining Brightonians creative naturewith their need to do something good, showing Brighton’s most vulnerable that someone is looking after them.
One small act of Kindness in itself won’t eradicate an entire city’s social problems but just think, if every person in Brighton did one thing to help someone today, then, over a quarter of a million act of kindness: Now that might make quite a difference.