A few of the team at Yoomee wanted to explore using creativity and enterprise to make a positive difference in the lives of homeless and vulnerable people in Sheffield. We thought it would be a good idea to start by speaking with people and organisations who have experience of working with homeless and vulnerable people in order to better understand their needs and wants.
Homelessness is a complex issue with no simple solution. Every homeless and vulnerable person's circumstances are unique and there is no quick fix. In Sheffield there are a number of amazing organisations who are providing services and support for a lot of people. Once such organisation is Cathedral Archer Project, and so we spent some time with their team to listen and learn.
Discovering wants & needs
We discovered a common theme was that many homeless and vulnerable people want the opportunity to volunteer and have the desire to get involved, do meaningful things and learn new skills. Many would like to give back to the Archers project in some way. There are currently not enough volunteering opportunities for people to get involved in.
Archer Project regularly run art & creative workshops which are well attended and have proven to be really beneficial for personal expression, learning new skills and building self-esteem in the people taking part. The workshops often lead to more meaningful conversations between support workers and help to build relationship and trust. They need financial support to help these creativity and confidence building opportunities to happen.
Through conversations with friends and colleagues, it seems that many people are concerned about the issue of homelessness inSheffield, but don't really know how to help. Giving cash to people who are begging is discouraged by homeless charities and they simply don't have the capacity to volunteer their time at a local charity.
A consumer need that we identified was people in Sheffield who are looking to find unique products either as gifts for others, or to keep for themselves.
The big idea
Working with a local screenprinters, we propose running workshops to teach homeless people how to screenprint. We could collaborate with established Sheffield artists who create designs for screenprinting. We can then print designs as posters which can then be sold through printedbyus.org. All prints will be signed “designed by [Signature of artist], printed by [signature of printer]" hence Printed by us.
All of the profits will go back into the project and for purchasing art supplies for Archer Project creative workshops.
This would also provide the people of Sheffield with the opportunity to a purchase a unique product / gift with the added feel-good factor of making a positive difference to some homeless and vulnerable people in Sheffield.
What could possibly go wrong?
It's really easy to get carried away with a wonderful exciting shiny new idea that is definitely going to be a roaring success. So it's good practice to step back and ask oneself; what assumptions am I making here?
Will my screenprinter be interested in running the course?
We spoke to him. He is. And he's even given us a very good price. What a guy.
Will homeless people be interested in doing a screenprinting workshop?
These are vulnerable people, and it's quite a big step putting yourself in a new environment and trying to learn a new skill There will be new people, and the possibility of failure. Will they turn up on the day?
We've spoken with the team at Archer project and they are confident that there will be a lot of interest. They have a handful of specific people in mind who have been really engaging with the art workshops, who are making positive choices, and who generally want to get involved. To put the attendees as ease, a member of the Archer Project team will be helping to oversee the day.
Will members of the public be interested in buying our artwork?
We are collaborating with established Sheffield artists who already have some success and have a following of their work. The artists are kindly donating their work and will help us to promote the prints to their followers. Hopefully being involved in this project will be positive for their brand, but also for directing customers to more of their prints that they sell through their own websites.
One of the designs we intend to use has already sold very successfully when printed on a T-shirt and there was demand from customers at the time to have a paper print of the design.
Can we print the designs to a high enough standard that can be sold?
Our screenprinter has a lot of experience of teaching screenprinting workshops to beginners, and of course skill acquisition of attendees varies considerably. We won't really be able to discover this until the workshop. It's a bit of a risk, but one worth taking.
Do the workshop with 3–4 homeless and vulnerable people who are interested in the workshop.
Get a holding page up on printedbyus.org that explains the concept and gives opportunity for people to sign up to 'keep in touch' via Mailchimp.
Perhaps we could pitch at Sheffield Soup to get some feedback on the idea, network and potentially gain some start-up capital to fund the first screenprinting workshop.
What have we learned?
Lean Canvas helped us to really thrash out our idea and really explore the problems which we had discovered through research talking to Archers Project and other people who work with homeless and vulnerable people
From our research we discovered just how valuable purpose and creativity can be for improving self-confidence in vulnerable people. We pivoted our project to focus on this rather than on more obvious needs such as food or accommodation. That there is real value by involving homeless and vulnerable people in creating something and learning a new skill rather than simply giving 'hand outs'.
We have learned that people are really interested in being involved and helping out towards making a positive difference. The idea has been well received by local artists who are interested in creating a design in good will.
Who did what?
Rich Wells (above) is Creative director at Yoomee and has experience of creating and selling hundreds of his own original prints. Rich was responsible for helping to develop and refine the idea as well a providing some creative direction helping to create an initial logo mark and mock-up a holding page.
Rich was assisted by Mark Musgrave who met with the Cathedral Archer Project, and other people who work with homeless and vulnerable people, in order to ask questions, listen and understand needs. In his spare time, Mark heads up an ethical clothing label The Level Collective who collaborate with artists to create designs which are then screenprinted here in Sheffield. Mark has connections with local artists and screenprinters so has made use of these contacts to gain interest and gather costings. Rich then then spent some time developing initial brand and logo ideas.
We also asked Richard Goodman who volunteered with a soup kitchen project providing meals and conversation to homeless and vulnerable people. He brought his experience of working with the homeless into the ideation discussions and has helped to gather research around product costings.
October 2016: Update