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A 'secret museum' aims to showcase the real story of homelessness during Covid

The Museum of Homelessness is launching an immersive experience to showcase the experience of the pandemic for rough sleepers, activists and others.

Homeless deaths tribute London

The Museum of Homelessness lit candles earlier in the year to honour the homeless people who had died. Credit: Anthony Luvera

An immersive “secret museum” launching this month will aim to reveal the true story of homelessness throughout the Covid pandemic.

The Museum of Homelessness’s Secret Museum in London will aim to uncover the reality of the lockdown, as well as the Crime and Policing Bill protests. 

It will take place over 11 days from October 27 and will showcase the real-life stories and experiences from a range of people such as rough sleepers, activists and front line workers. It has been funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

One of the portrait's featured in the Secret Museum. Image: Anthony Luvera
One of the portrait’s featured in the Secret Museum. Image: Anthony Luvera

Its secret nature will see the audience follow a series of clues to find its location. The idea is meant to replicate the process of truth seeking and uncertainty that the country experienced during 18 months when doubt was cast upon both politicians and the media. 

Co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness, Matt Turtle said: “The notion of secrecy and having to find out the truth is important. That’s what we’ve seen in the past 18 months.

“The truth has been challenged, there’s questions around the media and people who doubt a lot of what the narratives we are being told. We have seen this with homelessness as well, with some people challenging the Everyone In scheme and others saying what an unprecedented success it has been.”  

The show is timed for 18 months after the start of the Everyone In scheme and is based around a series of objects that have been anonymously donated. It will also feature real-life stories as well as allowing participants a space to share their own experiences.

Paul Atherton is one such person who has donated an object to the show. He was rough sleeping in Heathrow Airport when the lockdown was announced in March 2020.

Atherton said: “Hearing from the people who lived through the experience [of Everyone In] is the only way to actually find out what really happened and Museum of Homelessness does what it says on the tin, tells the stories, the truth, from first-hand accounts of those who were there, including my own.”

“The object stories reveal to us how and where the system failed,” Turtle added. “This has happened in quite subtle ways. One of the objects for example is a cardboard box with an Amazon tick on the side, and isn’t it weird how Amazon sales exploded by 51% in the pandemic but yet we were running out of cardboard in the streets.” 

The Everyone In scheme has been met with both praise and criticism, for both its success in keeping people safe from the virus, but also its failure to extend to everyone and its seemingly abrupt end. 

Turtle said: “It wasn’t a coherent solid plan that emerged after having been planned for a number of months, but of course how could it have been. The result however is that there has been a lot of confusion about it, and it has also been heavily politicised. 

“[Everyone In] is a powerful, unifying statement and one we can identify with, so its potential to become a soundbite is very strong, but its potential to become a policy on the ground that worked for a lot of people was also very strong. 

“It was presented as an opportunity to completely change the homelessness system and the way we work with homeless people. But it has also been seen as something a lot of people were excluded from, for example elements around no recourse to public funds and the fact that the rule change in 2020 cut out a lot of people who needed that support.” 

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The experience will begin at the site of cardboard city by Waterloo and will last for around 90 minutes. Tickets are free and street drops for starter packs are available for those with no fixed address. 

“We see this as the first opportunity for many to come together and speak honestly and openly about 2020 for the first time.” 

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