These last two weeks in the PROTOHOME workshop have seen a lot of drawing, walking, talking, baking and always a lot of laughing.

We are now over a month into the project and last Thursday our wood arrived, so we’re ready to start the big build. Up until now we’ve been learning various jointing techniques and mainly getting our mortise and tenon joints up the scratch (so the house doesn’t fall down!) Dean, the joiner, put us all on mortise and tenon bootcamp last week. Four hours of sawing, chiselling, sanding, going from 6.5/10 to 8.5/10 of slowly improving, taking more time and care over our joints, getting less haphazard with the chisels and saws (thankfully!) For the most improved joint-maker Dean made a joint-themed trophy (depending on which way you look at it it’s either advocating peace or fingers up to homelessness!)

Bootcamp trophy

We’ve also been learning the design programme SketchUp (a freely downloadable and easy to use software) and had a visit from one of the architects from xsite architecture to work with us. We started putting the drawn designs for the house (see second blog post) into SketchUp and getting quite creative with this (64 inch TVs, in-house wood workshops, and spinning walls are just some of the things included in these designs). Some are definitely more ‘jazzy’ than others but its great to see that everyone has really different ideas about how they would use and lay out the space. One highlight over the last two weeks was the ‘BarCuzzi’. The BarCuzzi (shortly to be patented) is a barbeque and a jacuzzi on one – the heat from the barbeque heats the water in the jacuzzi – of course our ideas are always sustainable, affordable and energy saving!

Sketchup model

We also took a trip to the site which is in the Ouseburn area of the city. We took some group photos looking like a big, awkward family, but it’s as one of our lovely group members said recently:

“within that first day [of the workshops] we were a family… people were helping each other out… and I think that’s the sign of something good going on, is when people are connecting, because when something not right’s going on, like problems with mental health or problems with housing or whatever, that’s when things fragment or isolate… It’s like that social glue. It’s like these are dry joints with no glue necessary, and this is a project with no glue necessary.”

In this big family, some of us have certainly come out of our shells, and others have just continued to be as lively as always!

One of the other things we have done is to have a group conversation about homelessness, each group member having had experience of this. We firstly wanted to analyse what homelessness was. Some people thought if you were in a hostel or on a friend’s floor then because you had a roof over your head you weren’t homeless. Others differed in their ideas, saying that ‘hidden homelessness’ was huge and growing. However, our conversation became mainly about hostels and experiences of these. Most have had negative experiences of this system. One member said that hostels are,

“a kind of pressure cooker because very often people… they’re on their last gasp and there’s huge problems. So everyone’s trying to coexist in a little community but… things kick off all the time, you know, police are in and out all the time in my hostel.”

So “You’re as much subject to abuse inside a hostel as you are outside”. One member mentioned that he likes “a bit of peace and quiet” but this is very hard to find in a hostel, and sleeping on the streets is often a better option for getting a good nights sleep: “I went on the streets and I’ve slept ten hours like that solid”. They are also spaces that can make a situation worse, where troubles are intensified: “I got into more trouble than owt else. More drugs than owt else” living in hostels.

We spoke a lot about the prison-hostel cycle, where people go round and round. Once you’ve lost the tenancy on your house and go to prison it’s very difficult to get back. And then the hostel won’t release you from prison unless you’ve got a bail address, which is quite often a hostel. One member said that hostels “are bail hostels, basically” with people going in and out and back and forth in a cycle which is very difficult to get out of:

“Eventually I did end up into the hostel system, and once yer in, try getting out cos it’s virtually impossible. Once you’re in a hostel, you just go from there to there to there to there.”

We also spoke about the close connection between the environment of the hostel and that of the prison. “Magnolia walls”, the constant bedroom checks, searches, and no visitors allowed policies. “It gives you that institutional mentality, so it’s very difficult to leave that environment and live independently.” One member mentioned that they “need that control on a situation and I think you lose it when you get into the system.” So inside the hostel you are subject to a system of control that has very negative implications:

“There’s something about when you muck up and you make mistakes and you end up in a hostel, no matter how well meaning the staff are, that you’re then treated as someone that has problems and that can’t be trusted to get back themselves.”

These informal conversations have become a really important aspect of the project to check that people are enjoying it, on the same level and getting along. It also helps build relationships and good group dynamics, which is going to be pretty important if our “no glue necessary” joints are going to hold in place and keep the house standing!

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