What is your bedroom to you? A private space? A place to sleep and rest? A place to read and relax? Perhaps you have a TV in your bedroom, or do you need nothing more than a good book? Is your bedroom a shared space with your partner or a place just for you? Is it full of your belongings? Clothes, keepsakes and mementoes?
I guarantee it is a space most of us take for granted. A safe haven, a place to shut yourself off from your busy life.
The new exhibition at the Foundling Museum – ‘Bedrooms of London’ – makes us think about the living conditions of London’s disadvantaged children. In partnership with ‘The Childhood Trust’, the exhibition is a series of photographs by Katie Wilson. These intimate photos throw up the stark reality for many, many families in London who are living in poverty.
There is much rhetoric on television about the shortage of affordable social housing, but here is the reality. Families crammed into one room, possessions stuffed in bin bags, mattresses on the floor, eating, living and existing in one space.
Beside the photos are first-hand narratives giving a glimpse of hardship, difficult circumstances and the twist of fate that leaves a family exposed –
There is Annyka, 8 and Ruhel, 11, and their mum. They can’t go back to their dad’s, he was hurting their mum. They have been living in this room for 7 months and are about to be evicted.
There are families, single parents, living hand to mouth, relying on food banks and charity. There is uncertainty and insecurity.
The Childhood Trust have been working with many of these families focusing on helping young people trapped in poverty to overcome the disadvantages and challenges they face. It is with thanks to those families that this exhibition exists. They have born the shame and stigma, have bravely opened up their personal private space to be photographed and documented.
It is shocking, in one of the richest cities in the world that wealth inequality is so brutal and this is the unseen reality for 700,000 children in London.
I find it particularly hard reading about the children with disabilities, children with autism and ADHD. I know from my own experiences of having autistic children how absolutely crucial to their mental health having their own space has been. Issues around sleeping are very common for autistic children and routine and security play a huge part in well-being.
Change in circumstances can happen to anyone, poverty is, in reality, only a few steps away for many families, it doesn’t just happen to other people.
The image I find most poignant is the picture of Spider-Man taped to a wall with packing tape.
Jayesh and Ojas.
This is where the family sleep. Baby Ojas, Jayesh and their mother Melissa.
Melissa is a single Mum, Jayesh, 4 and baby Ojas sleep here. Jayesh has autism, Melissa hopes watching TV will help broaden his vocabulary. She finds it hard to keep up with her son whose disorder makes him hyperactive. Jayesh likes to climb things and the terrace door in the kitchen doesn’t lock. He could easily let himself out and fall.
Their home is cramped and hazardous and the family can’t afford to buy food.
“Everyone around here relies on food banks’ she says.
The image of that SpiderMan has stayed with me for many weeks now. It is a cry for childhood fun, escapism, a little bit of brightness in a brutal adult world. I wander into my own son’s room, with his posters and pictures and books and my heart feels heavy for lost opportunities and a society that does not see or care.
Bedrooms of London runs till 5th May and I highly recommend a visit. You can find out more about the work of the charity – The Childhood Trust and support their work here.
The Childhood Trust would like to thank the families and children who opened their doors and shared their stories to contribute to this exhibition. We acknowledge that you have done so because you want change. – The Childhood Trust.
Bedrooms of London runs from 8th Feb – 5th May 2019, for ticket prices and opening times please see the website https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk/events/bedrooms-of-london/
A great blog on this exhibition which is worth a read is here – https://museummum.com/2019/02/07/bedrooms-of-london-at-the-foundling-museum/