Spotlight on homeless

2nd February 2012. Richard Wheater and Victoria Lucas with '12 Months of Neon Love ' at the Hepworth Wakefield.
2nd February 2012. Richard Wheater and Victoria Lucas with '12 Months of Neon Love ' at the Hepworth Wakefield.

BRIGHT messages from “invisible people” could spring up across the city after a project to shine a light on homelessness.

Artist Richard Wheater – one of the founders of a scheme which saw love-themed neon quotes light up the Wakefield skyline last year – worked with a group of ten homeless people to create Visible Words from Invisible People.

The group hope the neon signs, which were unveiled during an exhibition last week, will go on display on buildings and walls in the city centre.

Each sign shows a message or image which highlights the plight of homeless people in the area.

Richard said: “We all have problems, I dare say many in quiet desperation are giving their precious time in the present to invest in a determined better future.

“What I have found most revealing over the ten weeks working with this group is that time is different for them. There is no ‘dangling carrot’ future aspiration.

“The present is the only place they exist in, right in their face, regularly giving them a slap.”

Richard’s last project – 12 Months of Neon Love with Victoria Lucas – borrowed phrases from 12 well-known songs, sparking a monthly rotation of glowing neon phrases over the city’s rooftops.

Lyrics on display throughout the year included Joy Division’s “love, love will tear us apart, again” and Elvis’ “I’m in love, I’m all shook up, uh-huh-huh”.

But the artist said he was inspired to tackle the issue of homelessness after reading a story in the Express saying homelessness in England had increased by 23 per cent.

Richard said: “The closest I’ve ever been to homelessness was when I couldn’t afford the rent. My parents willingly came to the rescue and allowed me to move back to the family home until things improved.

“Spending most of my adult life in cities, it’s easy to become desensitised by the readily available scenes of dishevelled beggars or stumbling intoxicated men, seemingly troubled, with an appearance and aroma that would indicate sleeping rough.

“The fear of their unpredictable behaviour allowed me to become an expert at avoiding eye contact, crossing the road to avoid confrontation.

“In hindsight I don’t believe my aversion to the issue was due to being more shallow or detached from reality, rather a primeval instinct mechanism would kick in, to avert me from hassle or confrontation, as though homelessness might be something I might catch if I get too close.”

For more information about the project, which was commissioned by Pennine Camp Hill Community, funded by Wakefield Council, and in conjunction with Wakefield Baptist Church visit