I used to go out and just take photos. I never really talked to the people I was photographing, mostly I don’t even think they knew I was there. In fact, that was the idea. Blend in and you will get the candid shots.
However, the more work I do for publications like the Western Morning News the more I find myself talking to people. I have to at least get their names! But more and more I find my notebook coming out, notes being taken with a nagging wish in the back of my mind that I had taken my dictaphone.
Being freelance I don’t always get the press release which means I have no background information prior to the event I am attending. So while the local staff photographers turn up and take one or two pictures and then move on to the next booking, I hang around and chat and try to find out as much as I can.
Last Friday was one such time and although the Head of Marketing at King's College (Taunton) had been very helpful and given me some background information I got drawn into a conversation with John Shipley, Chief Exec of Taunton Association for the Homeless.
“Homelessness is forgotten by January” John tells me. In fact thinking about it the only story I remember about the homeless this year is that of Michael who died in Totnes in November. I only heard about this because of the 48 hour sleep out street vigil by Graham Walker, who himself was once homeless. It seems the weather has pushed the homeless from our pages this year too.
I ask John how many people are living on the streets in Taunton and am a little surprised when John says 15. I thought it might be more. But on reflection Taunton is a small town and 15 is not such a small number. John may have noticed my slight look of surprise, or with my news head on, was it disappointment, the bigger the number the more the newsdesk might like it. John quickly follows this number up with 'and another 130 living in our shelters.' All these people are from Somerset, John explains they travel to Taunton from all over the county as this is where the shelters are.
John also told me that the age of the homeless appears to be dropping, now many are under 25. Men are losing their jobs which causes financial problems and puts pressure on marriages, often leading to divorce and the men living rough. This information makes me realise that out of those three steps to homelessness I have completed two of them. I have a sudden desire to put some more chance in the collection tin.
What had taken me to Taunton last Friday? I’d heard that the three heads of the Taunton independent schools had the week before met for a Christmas lunch. This had led to it being agreed, or maybe it was a dare, that the three would busk in the centre of Taunton to raise money for Shelter Care, a charity that works for the homeless.
As I walked through Castle Green I could hear carols being played and spotted through the arch outside Brazz a crowd of people and three musicians in Santa hats. I’d found my heads.
Chris Alcock, Richard Biggs, Dr John Newton
In case you’ve missed the weather reports, it’s rained for what seems like 40 days and 40 nights. Friday saw a break in the rain and the sun shone. The streets where full of shoppers who were being serenaded by the sometimes slightly out of tune carols. There was a fun atmosphere with plenty of laughing and jokes. It felt like Christmas had arrived in Taunton.
Richard Biggs, Headmaster of King’s College in Taunton.
Richard Biggs, Headmaster of King’s College in Taunton is perhaps the most experienced musician, having last year passed his grade 8 on the French horn, but has expressed doubts over whether he has enough stamina to last a full hour of playing.
Dr John Newton, Headmaster of Taunton School
Dr John Newton, Headmaster of Taunton School, is a pretty decent tuba player, well able to hold down a bass line.
Chris Alcock, Headmaster of Queen’s College.
Headmaster of Queen’s College, Chris Alcock, is perhaps the most nervous of the trio, having only been learning the tenor saxophone for a few months now.
Chris Alcock, Richard Biggs, Dr John Newton.
Students from Queen's College collect money.
Students from all three schools were politely collecting money from passers-by as well as those who stayed to listen. In all £350 was raised and I feel a tradition has been born and we will see the return of the Busking Heads next Christmas.
John tells me the money raised will go towards helping the homeless back to work, whether by helping to by clothing for job interviews or boots to enable them to work on building sites etc. Money raised also helps buy furniture for those lucky enough to have found work and accommodation. If you would like to donate please click here for information.
Unfortunately the rain returned overnight and in the words of the newsdesk editor, “sorry Andy, your pictures got flooded out.”