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Creating a graphic novel transformed the life of a formerly homeless artist

The Book of Homelessness is the world’s first graphic novel created by people who have experienced life on the streets. Mitchel Ceney, 36, says the Accumulate project has reinvigorated his creative side

Homelessness arts charity Accumulate broke new ground when they released a graphic novel dubbed the world’s first to be created entirely by people affected by homelessness in November.

The charity spent almost a year working with the people they support to craft The Book of Homelessness– an anthology of stories, drawings and poems that uncover the reality of homelessness in 2020.

We spoke to one of the artists Mitchel Ceney – who also contributed illustrations to our Pick Your Path interactive fiction project – to find out how working on the graphic novel has reinvigorated his love for all things creative.

The Big Issue: How did you get involved with The Book of Homelessness?

Mitchel Ceney:I was homeless for a few years and I ended up sleeping rough in Westminster with my girlfriend at the time. The No Second Night Out scheme ended up getting me into Passage House in Pimlico. They ran an arts workshop on a Thursday and through that I went to Accumulate’s events. That got me talking to Marice [Cumber, Accumulate founder] and I showed her my pictures and drawings. She invited me to workshops for what would become The Book of Homelessness.

What do you enjoy most about art?

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I’ve been drawing pretty much all of my life but I have put it down in the last few years while I’ve been addicted to drugs and on the streets. Getting back into the workshops at Passage House reawakened me. It reminded me that I enjoyed doing it and through the encouragement from people there made me think that this was something I wanted to get back into and pursue. I’ve lived without anything. I lived in a tent on the streets. I’ve lived surviving on what you could steal or shoplift. I know what it’s like to have nothing so I’m not scared of that. But it has reminded me of the things that I do want to have and I do want to make art and help people who were in the same situation I was. I want to get back to being creative.

What as it like to see your work in print in this graphic novel?

I was so excited. I’d never had anything printed in a book before. I’ve been in the newspaper a few times! I used to do graffiti that got me in the local paper and on the news but that wasn’t positive exposure.

Where do you think you’d be without this opportunity to work on The Book of Homelessness?

I would probably have still been using drugs. I’d probably have been housed but I’d have messed it up by now. It’s given me a direction to go in and something to focus on and keep off drugs for. So I’d still be lost and unsure of what I was doing without art. Through Accumulate I’ve been given an arts scholarship at uni to do an access course to get into arts and design. It’s about study skills and getting people into education because a lot of people haven’t been in education for a while.

And you also provide illustrations for The Big Issue’s Pick Your Path narrative experience – how did you find that project?

It was difficult to get my head around because I have never worked on something like that before. I’ve never done illustrations to a story so it was a new experience and I didn’t know how it was going to fit together. But that is really exciting. I really enjoyed it when I got into it and it has taught me a lot about how I work, my process and my thought pattern I need to engage in to create stuff. So it was a brilliant experience.

The Book of Homelessness is available from accumulate.org.uk, priced at £25 plus £4.50 p&p

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