Homeless people in Canterbury say a pioneering art project has helped turn their lives around.
It has been taking place at the charity Catching Lives, with some rough sleepers saying it has lifted them out of the depths of despair and pulled them from the brink of suicide.
The scheme, backed with a £15,000 EU social fund grant, has resulted in a variety of artworks, which will go on display around the city this month.
Twelve people have contributed to the exhibition, which is called City Ciphers and includes drawings, textiles, photography, music, sculpture, collage, creative writing and a unique 6ft map of Canterbury.
For homeless people like Zeph Smith, 40, getting involved has been a lifesaver.
He said: “I am a recovering alcoholic and have been at rock bottom – close to topping myself.
“But when I got into art, I started to find it really therapeutic and feel like I really have benefited.
“I’ve started to go to college and had some very positive feed- back.” Jimmy Wicks, 61, says his life collapsed after losing his job in the security industry, leaving him in debt and eventually homeless.
He said: “I lost everything and ended up living in a tent. I was in Shropshire at the time, but was born in Canterbury and lived in the city until I was 18, so came back here.
“I’ve really enjoyed being involved in the art project and have really got into drawing. It’s got my motivation back on track and now I’m looking for a job.
“Without Catching Lives, I’m not sure I would have survived.”
Antonio Ramos, 31, fell on hard times after losing his job as a chef in London and had a nervous breakdown because of depression.
He said: “The art project really has given me a lift. I was even invited to give a talk to medical students at Kent and Canterbury Hospital about the therapeutic benefits of art for the homeless.
“That is something I would never have been able to do before because I was quite shy.”
Ed Bryan, 46, said: “I never thought I’d be made homeless and am a proud bloke and didn’t initially want any help. But Catching Lives has been incredible supportive and I’ve really enjoyed contributing to the musical side of the project, helping to record a CD.”
Project coordinator and volunteer trustee Glennis Turrell says she hopes the exhibition, which will be launched at the Catching Lives Book Shop in Palace Street, on March 23, will help change the perception of homeless people.
After its launch, it will go on show at a variety of city centre venues, including City Space, the Beaney art gallery and estate agents Ward & Partners, Connells, Geering & Colyer and Your Move.