Proving art has the power to change lives, formerly homeless Lisa Louise Macgregor found herself sofa surfing and struggling to find somewhere to call home before she came across the Depaul Hostel in Greenwich. It was there that she began fulfilling her long-established passion for photography, engaging in homeless charity Accumulate’s influential creative workshops.
The charity has since helped the aspiring artist to find her feet and explore artistic avenues that might once have seemed impossible. Now a part of the Supercity Art House campaign, an initiative in which the artworks of formerly homeless young people in London are exhibited and sold, we asked Lisa Louise about her experience of homelessness and anxiety, what inspires her most and how art has changed her life.
Can you tell us about your experience of being homeless and living at the DePaul Hostel in Greenwich?
The first time I was homeless, I spent my time at different friends’ houses and at my dad’s. But after a few months of being between different places, I saved some money from my part time job at a local photo studio and rented my own room. At this point, I felt pretty stable and confident in myself as I was living in stable conditions, I had a decent paying job that I enjoyed, and I was doing well at college.
Towards the end of my degree studying media, my living situation drastically changed as my landlord decided to sell the property, which left me in an unstable, yet familiar situation again. So I went back to sofa surfing, which was very hard to do as my friends were applying to university and moving away, something I also planned to do but felt it was too stressful for me at this time.
As time went on, I decided to try and reconnect with my mum and repair our relationship as I felt that my mental state was becoming worse and my motivation to do anything was gone. I didn’t see a future for myself in any way, shape or form. I had given up.
I was referred to the charity DePaul, an organisation which assigns you a support worker and gives you a safe space whilst they help you apply for your bidding number and explain the process in order to avoid homelessness again. At my time with DePaul, I had a few different support workers who I feel have all helped me develop as a person. I had support workers that helped me find Accumulate and to reach my goal to study at university. My support team helped me build a better relationship with my mum, which has helped me with my anxiety. My support team helped me secure my permanent place after the longest, loneliest journey to which I saw no end.
I thank every member that helped me along the way, they truly do make a difference.
Were you always interested in art growing up?
Growing up, my mum and dad always encouraged me to be creative. I attended dance school from the age of two and learned to play the guitar for a few years. My dad was always making things with me like masks, or giving me different types of paint to experiment with. He would teach me how to draw, even though I didn’t have much patience for it like he did.
Both my parents’ lives have been influenced a lot by music and on my 10th birthday, my mum bought me a set of tectonic turn tables and taught me how to mix house music with drum and bass.
At secondary school we explored different creative forms in art class, I fell in love with photography. The one thing that really captured me was seeing all the iconic and historic images which will forever tell a meaningful story, that felt so important to me. Another point that made me so infatuated with photography was the science to it, I learned about pin hole photography. I was so surprised that you didn’t need anything except a box, photographic paper and the chemicals to develop the image.
Who or what inspires you artistically?
I feel like the things I have experienced and how they make me feel mentally are a massive influence on what I do artistically. Music in general seems to be something that motivates me when I’m shooting, I feel this is because it sparks emotions and feelings which I then express through the pictures I take.
I’ve noticed that I seem to find a way to root my own projects back to south east London area that I have grown up in, where my story began. I feel like my environment has contributed to who I am in massive way.
The small things in life have kept me going. No matter how hard it gets, the sound of the rain on a window will always make me feel content or the bright stars in the pitch-black sky will never fail to make me smile. These small things have never changed through all the ups and downs, there will always be something small to remind me that life is beautiful and there is always something better coming, as long as you keep pushing.
How has Accumulate helped to change your life?
Accumulate helped me tackle my anxiety, which was a big issue at the time. They put me back into my comfort zone to be able to create again and there was guidance there if I needed it.
My favourite thing about the course was that every week took place in a different location, which were all creative. Many were galleries and museums and other locations would be places like Peckham Levels.
Most importantly, it helped me get a stepping stone into Ravensbourne University. I received a scholarship to attend my first year where I do the access course, as I wasn’t too sure which direction I wanted to take within the creative media sector. After trying out different things, I was stuck between graphic design and my longest love: photography. After looking into it and going to various university open days, I settled on my choice with staying at Ravensbourne and studying photography which I’m very much enjoying.
Which of your works are being exhibited with Supercity Art House?
My piece being exhibited is called Angles and was taken in Peckham Levels, which used to be a car park but was renovated into a space for creatives. Each level of the stairs is a different bright colour. I took the picture in a way that makes the viewer wonder which side is the correct viewing point, as at the time it reflected how I was feeling in life, being moved from place to place, going through anxiety and not feeling very stable in life, yet still wanting to remain this bright happy person, which is why I chose the bright pink rather than the blue or green.
I like to leave my pictures up to interpretation, as I didn’t intend a certain meaning within this image, I was just trying to show my emotion during the current state of my life. I also liked the fact that it used to be something else and has now been given a new purpose, something I felt like was happening when I began the course, as it got me out of my house and meeting people in similar situations, as well as being inspired by new things.
Can you tell me about your experience of anxiety and how studying photography has helped?
My anxiety first started when I didn’t have a stable place to stay, and it escalated from there. Everything felt like it was out of control, it was all getting too much. Accumulate became an escape, a way to let it out and just forget for the day. It became something I looked forward to every week.
My support workers have helped me overcome anxiety by replacing the thoughts with being more active or planning my projects at university down to every single detail. This ensured I was never anxious over the thing that gave me so much joy. Working on a project from start to finish and seeing the end result hanging on a wall is so rewarding. The whole process is incredibly calming and helps me block all the real-world stress out.
What are you looking forward to in 2020?
I now have my flat and no longer live in supported accommodation. I will move in by the end of the year and I’m looking forward to finally making memories in my forever place and to finally feel secure. I’m looking forward to doing well at university and finding out how these projects and things I’m learning will impact my work.
What would you like to do in the future?
I hope university will help me decide and guide me to the best role in the industry, but at the moment, I enjoy being able to work freely and express myself without working to a brief. I enjoy the process of putting on exhibitions, and would love to do it again with a bigger series. It was so exciting to see people staring at my images and really taking it in, it’s like I could see their brain moving and thinking; that’s something I aim to do with my work, make people think.
Is there any advice you would give to a young person who might be in the same living situation as you were?
My biggest piece of advice for someone going through homelessness or anything that is bothering them is to keep pushing. The day will come when the news is good. Find something you love to concentrate on, put all of your passion into it and the feeling you get back will be so rewarding. Ask for help, don’t feel ashamed to talk to someone about things. It took me a while to realise, but there are so many services out there to help and so many people willing to listen. Keep as active as you can, you’ve heard it before, but it makes you feel better. Keep your energy positive – it gets so much better.