A Place to Be

Gary cycled everywhere, to be honest he was fucking bored of cycling but it was either that or stay in the house because he didn’t have money to get around. He saw someone come in with a cycling helmet. He thought about saying hello but didn’t really have the energy for it. It wasn’t one of his good days so he just sat and watched instead. It was good to just sit and see things, feel things going on around him rather than his empty flat. At home he often felt like the world had forgotten about him. Here he was a part of the world. He noticed one of the kids from the creche was struggling to do a puzzle because the elephant wouldn’t fit in the board. The boy was smashing the wooden board against the ground to see if that would help. Gary ambled over and found him the board that the elephant did fit in. The boy didn’t acknowledge the help. That was okay. Gary popped back to his seat after that.

Many people are not ready, capable or interested in active projects of development or rehabilitation. For a number of people the centre provides a safe, comfortable space where people can come and benefit in a number of ways. A significant proportion of these people may have long histories of relationships with a variety of service providers such as welfare agencies, unemployment services and the mental health services. These relationships have often been characterised by their being persuaded, cajoled or forced into certain behaviours and activities. Many people who came to the centre had previously been subject to inflexible rules and agencies that had little to offer those who were not immediately willing and/or capable of undertaking what often constituted low-wage, entry-level jobs.

Whether through dependence on mental health services, the welfare system or a combination of these, some centre users had been repeatedly exposed to the pathologisation of their non-working lifestyle.11,12 The ethos of the BUCFP in some sense provides a route which counters this dominant discourse—it provides a set of potential options that allow the different centre users to find their own route to self-sufficiency. Hence the hands-off approach, that is, providing a space where people are not pushed into behaving in certain ways or doing certain activities, is key to the popularity of the centre.

Alan was nearing the end of a session with the art group. He went around the group looking at the paintings and pictures. He never tired of seeing how people’s art changed in response to the things that were happening in their lives. Geoff had been coming for a while and had occasionally helped Alan run the group. Left alone to relax during the class he would almost always say that the great thing about art was that nobody told you what to do, that that was the beauty of it. You could almost set your watch by it. Geoff comes in, sits down, engages in small talk, starts painting, period of silence and then boom—reflects on his autonomy in an art group, almost as if the paintbrush were compelling him in line with some invisible clock. ‘Very true Geoff, very true’.

The BUCFP provides, uniquely, both support for short-term pathways into employment as well as viable, worthwhile and fulfilling alternatives to such pathways. Moreover, there is an acknowledgement that paid work is not the only way to achieve social inclusion.13

We’re not trying to stop people working but, on the other hand, we don’t believe in pushing people towards employment. We’re quite happy for people to be unemployed and remain unemployed should they wish to do so. If people don’t want to be employed that’s fine by us (Participant 5, staff)

Some people who have been away from the labour market for a prolonged time, the displaced and ‘losers of society’ mentioned earlier, cannot readily be positioned into immediate work for a variety of reasons. And a dominant feature of the centre is that there is no concerted impulse to do so. People are free to come to use the services, to spend time, to be with other people and to leave without being framed in certain ways as regards their future activities and aspirations. For people who have been used to being the subject of such disciplinary practices, the centre is a welcome and refreshing space to spend time. In fact one might argue that the very freedom and flexibility offered by the centre, in combination with ready opportunities to reconnect with people, to volunteer and take on responsibility, means that it provides an effective means of restoring a notion of citizenship to those who have been displaced from the mainstream activities of society.

Moving people on is fine as long as they’ve got somewhere to move on to but I don’t see the centre just as a purely moving on place, it’s to provide people with the support that they need on an individual basis rather than just having an idea, which I don’t think anyone’s got, you know that people shouldn’t be here more than six months or six years or 16 years or whatever (Participant 16, staff)

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