The Grit Awards were launched this summer at Bristol’s Harbourside Festival with presentations on a glittering blue podium next to the SS Great Britain. They are also set to appear at community events throughout the year. Created by Caring in Bristol’s Early Doors team and artist Rachel Clerke, the awards paid tribute to the many people whose grit and determination had got them through the challenges of insecure housing. Difficult landlords? Poor living conditions? Overcrowding? These, and many other factors, conspire to make life difficult for people in Bristol. The costs are their time, money, and wellbeing, just to endure things that jeopardise what should be a right for everyone: a safe and secure place to call home.
It’s commonplace to celebrate someone buying a house, but the Grit Awards remind people that there are different ways of having a home, and ownership is not an aspiration that everyone shares. That’s why it’s important that our society demands a level of justice where social homes and privately rented homes are affordable, stable and of a good quality. Until this happens, too many people are having to find the reserves of money and energy just to stay housed, and to try and secure even the basic standards that we should all be entitled to. Whoever we are. Wherever we live.
The awards team welcomed a stream of people who talked about the difficulties they had experienced with their housing. This was a visible relief to share experiences with someone whose expertise in the field meant they understood. Conversations took place while personalised rosettes were craeted, and the reason for their award was identified. Finally, each award winner was celebrated on the podium while a professional photographer captured the moment so that a snapshot of their tenacity and resilience could be given to them alongside their award.
The actual awards were presented by lead-artist Rachael Clerke, who said, “It’s been a real honour to have lots of conversations with folk about their grit, their pride, their big and small wins in a society that is obsessed with home ownership and rarely recognises anything else. More than a third of people in the UK are now directly impacted by the housing emergency. The Grit Awards is a space for having conversations about this, for signposting towards organisations like Caring in Bristol and CHAS who might be able to help.”
During the day 60% of people they spoke to felt their housing was insecure. From sofa surfers to private renters to people given ‘no fault evictions’ and just two months to find an alternative home. The team heard many stories, some happening now, with awards given to family members nominated for their repair work around the home – repairs that the landlord had failed to do. Another award went to someone who had finally found a home that enabled her to host an immediate family member for the weekend – well-deserved after an exhausting six-month search.
The Grit Awards captured the experience of many Bristolians who have had to struggle through housing difficulties instead of being able to enjoy their homelife. These experiences are often hidden to the rest of us, leaving people feeling invisible and unheard. The awards remind us that we may never be far away from someone experiencing housing insecurity. Could it be your neighbour? A family member? A work colleague or friend? A member of your community? Some people were not eligible for a Grit Award, and this helped to raise important questions about the inequality in the housing system that makes some people more likely to experience difficulties than others. Although Bristol’s housing crisis is affecting everyone, evidence shows that some communities are more likely to feel the negative benefits. Communities of colour, people who are LGBTQ+ and those with disabilities are all disproportionally affected by homelessness in Bristol.*
What factors protect us and how can we better support people to find and keep safe, affordable homes? This is a vital question for Early Doors. The team wants people to know that acting sooner rather than later to solve a housing problem is an effective way to prevent homelessness.
By being aware that this can happen, and who it affects, we open ourselves up to being part of the solution, and an ally to the people who have to dig deep to find the grit and determination to survive. Caring in Bristol wants our city to be a city that solves homelessness. This can only happen if we insist that housing insecurity has no home in Bristol.
The Grit Awards were developed as part of the Ebb and Flow Programme for Bristol Harbour Festival, funded by Arts Council England and Bristol City Council.
*Source: GOV.UK (Live Tables on Homelessness) and Albert Kennedy Trust
Early Doors was set up by Caring in Bristol and CHAS in response to people telling us they found getting support with their housing tricky. The Early Doors partnership work together with community members to identify key housing & homelessness issues, find solutions and create change and improvements. It currently works together with communities in BS13, BS2 and BS5.