Cardboard chronicles — writing the homeless into history

Wednesday 1 November 2017

The scourge of homelessness and rough sleeping have been around for centuries, yet the stories of people who lack access to housing, sustenance or security are largely missing from the history books.

On 22 November, theatre company Cardboard Citizens, in partnership with the Institute of Historical Research at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, will challenge researchers, activists, actors and artists to answer the question, ‘How can we find ways to listen to the voices of those who lack access to housing, sustenance or security?’

Seen and not heard: the untold history of homelessness’, which takes place in London’s Whitechapel from 6.30–9.30, will engage the public in a debate about how history has shaped the way we relate to homeless people in the present.

This timely conversation, one of the events in School of Advanced Study’s Being Human festival of the humanities, includes contributions from Cardboard Citizens’ artistic director Adrian Jackson, Dr Mark Price, a philosopher and official biographer of artist, Robert Lenkiewicz; and artist and book designer Esther McManus

During the evening a short theatre production based (verbatim) on Robert Lenkiewicz’s previously unpublished survey will relate compelling stories of rough sleepers in Plymouth during the 1970s. These recorded testimonies reveal the tenacity and struggle of people on the margins of British society. Tickets, priced £5, can be booked here with all proceeds going to Cardboard Citizens.

The ‘Seen and not heard: the untold history of homelessness’ workshop is part of the IHR’s ‘Stray Voices: The Unsettled History of Homelessness’ project, which explores the buried stories of homeless men and women whose voices are overlooked in the historical record.


Notes to Editors

1. For all enquiries, please contact: Dr Peter Jones, Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London, +44 (0)2078628816 /

2. Being Human: a festival of the humanities 17–25 November 2017. Led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, Being Human is a national forum for public engagement with humanities research. The festival will highlight the ways in which the humanities can inspire and enrich our everyday lives. For more information, please visit or follow the festival on Twitter at @BeingHumanFest

3. Cardboard Citizens: The UK's only homeless people's professional theatre company, Cardboard Citizens are acknowledged leaders in the UK in the practice of Theatre of the Oppressed techniques and have successfully been using Forum Theatre in working with marginalised groups for over 20 years. For more information, please visit or on Twitter at @CardboardCitz

4. The Institute of Historical Research (IHR) is one of nine member Institutes of the School of Advanced Study, part of the University of London. Founded in 1921 by A. F. Pollard, the IHR is an important resource and meeting place for researchers from all over the world. Its mission is to: Promote the study of history and an appreciation of the importance of the past among academics and the general public, in the UK and internationally, and to provide institutional support and individual leadership for this broad historical community. For more information, please visit or on Twitter at @ihr_history.

5. Stray Voices: The Stray Voices project aims to stimulate insight into the buried stories of homeless men and women whose voices remain unheeded within the historical record. How can exploring the images and realities of vagrancy sharpen our understanding of our ‘settled’ communities, which have otherwise been articulated from a sedentary perspective? This project will involve specialists in the history of vagrancy, creative practitioners, community activists, members of the public and those who have experience of homelessness in a shared conversation about how history has shaped our preconceptions relating to those with no fixed abode. For more information, please visit or through the Twitter hashtag #StrayVoices

6. Robert Lenkiewicz (1941–2002) worked within ‘Projects’: large-scale exhibitions of paintings and research notes related to sociological issues. His themes – vagrancy, mental handicap, old age, suicide, death – sought to illuminate the lives of those he called “the invisible people”. In other Projects –- with themes of falling in love, jealousy, orgasm, and obsessive attraction – Lenkiewicz looked at “addictive behaviour” of various kinds. Lenkiewicz exhibited the Vagrancy Project in one of the warehouses he had commandeered throughout the city to house the down-and-outs, known as "Jacob's Ladder" (entrance was originally gained via a ladder). So ignored were the vagrants that a council official opening the exhibition remarked how fortunate Plymouth was to have very few vagrants. Lenkiewicz had shrewdly anticipated this official blindness and, on a signal from him, dozens of these "invisible people" flooded into the room to make his point. Up until his last year, Lenkiewicz had continued to provide a free Christmas dinner for the homeless at Plymouth's Bretonside bus station.

7. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2015-16, SAS: welcomed 786 research fellows and associates; held 2,007 research dissemination events; received 24.4 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms; and received 194,145 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities: Being Human. Find out more at or on Twitter at @SASNews

8. The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. For more information, please visit Follow the AHRC on Twitter at @ahrcpress or Facebook at

9. The British Academy for the humanities and social sciences. Established by Royal Charter in 1902. Its purpose is to inspire and support high achievement in the humanities and social sciences throughout the UK and internationally, and to promote their public value. For more information, please visit Follow the British Academy on Twitter @britac_news.