Socially Engaged Photography Driving Positive Change for the Homeless – Coventry University

Anthony Luvera from the Centre for Arts, Memory and Communities at Coventry University has conducted socially engaged photographic research that has looked to influence attitudes towards homelessness with various audiences, with his work being exhibited at a national and international level, in world-renowned galleries.

One of Luvera’s works, the Assembly exhibition was co-created with over 50 people who had experienced homelessness in the Brighton and Hove areas in 2014. The exhibition comprised over 70 photographs, a 50-minute soundscape, performances by The Cascade Chorus (a community choir for people in recovery from addiction issues), and a programme for members of the public.

The exhibition reached around 210,000 people with the aim of improving their understanding of homelessness, while also enhancing the lives of those with experience of homelessness. Assembly continues to be shown internationally and has brought socially-engaged photography to the forefront of the Royal Photographic Society’s agenda and art galleries more widely.

The success of the Assembly project has led to a collaboration between Luvera and a participant, Gerald Mclaverty, on a long-term project called Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). FAQ has explored the support and services available to people with lived experience of homelessness. Luvera and Mclaverty contacted council representatives in 44 cities and towns across the UK requesting information about services provided in each locality. The replies received from the local authorities were first installed in the gallery space within the Assembly exhibition at the Phoenix Gallery.

Luvera and Mclaverty launched the next iteration of FAQ at the Tate Modern in 2017, followed by a new round of enquiries sent to 61 local authorities. A year later, working with the Museum of Homelessness, the findings were exhibited at Tate Liverpool as part of an exhibition entitled ‘State of the Nation’. The work was installed as a 13-metre wall display, accompanied by an extensive public engagement programme in partnership with individuals and organisations across the Liverpool area.

The passing of the Homelessness Reduction Act in 2017 spurred Luvera and Mclaverty to conduct further questioning of councils in 2019 to see if it had resulted in any discernible change. 110 local authorities were contacted and comprehensive analysis of the new data was undertaken. Further exhibitions of the survey iterations were held at The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft in Bristol in 2019, and the ‘Taking Place’ exhibition in London in 2020.

Luvera and Mclaverty presented the work of FAQ to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ending Homelessness in 2019 hosted by Chair, Neil Coyle MP. Additionally, the research has informed many local councils on how to best support homelessness and encouraged a more joined-up approach between different councils around addressing homelessness. The collaboration has enabled and inspired McIaverty to take up a voluntary retail position, his first employment in a significant period.

The research conducted by Luvera, and his collaborators continues to influence policy towards tackling homelessness across the UK and internationally.

Further reading