Sean Henry becomes our Patron!

Sean Henry becomes our Patron!

Posted on: 27 September 2018 in
Sean explains why he is supporting YRP

York Road Project is proud to announce well known sculptor Sean Henry is to become the charity’s patron. 

Sean grew up a few miles from Woking and remains involved with the town, having had a solo exhibition at The Lightbox Gallery & Museum in 2017. He has a genuine interest in homelessness having sculpted ‘John’, a long-term rough sleeper outside the V & A museum in London in 2009.  Several of Sean’s sculptures have been permanently installed in Woking town centre, with more planned for 2019 and 2020. 

Sean will be joining members of the community and the Mayor of Woking, Will Forster at its ‘sleep out’ event on 29th September.

Sean said 'One of my first encounters with homelessness was when I met and subsequently photographed and sculpted John, who I first talked to outside the V&A Museum in London in 2009. John told me he had been sleeping rough in London for eight years – an unimaginably long time. Spending some time with him, it brought home to me the reality of his situation, knowing in my heart that I would struggle to survive sleeping rough for even 8 days.  

John seemed remarkable in many ways, with a vitality that had somehow endured despite his extreme positionI have not seen him since 2012 and I hope very much that his situation has improved. 



John (2009) 

As anyone who lives in a UK city knows, John’s fragile existence and marginalized social status are not unique. Homelessness is far too prevalent. The government estimates that England currently has over 4800 rough sleepers, more than double the amount it recorded in 2010.  

In 2016 a detailed survey of over 450 homeless people discovered more than half of them had suffered verbal abuse, had had things stolen from them and felt that life on the streets was getting harder. Over 30% reported being physically hit and having things thrown at them and over a half of all incidents were not reported to the police, for fear that they would not be taken seriously.

The truth of homelessness is that you can’t generalise about the reasons it happens nor offer simplistic solutions. Each individual will have their own story – from financial collapse to marital breakdown, to alcohol and drug issues, perhaps alongside mental health issues or other long-term illnesses or even simply bad luck. The reasons people end up that first night on the streets are multiple and varied, and it can happen to anyone. 

Which brings me to Woking and the York Road Project. 

I grew up a few miles from Woking, and first came across the work of the York Road Project while organising an exhibition at the town’s Lightbox Gallery & Museum in 2017. Their local focus and holistic approach to the issues around homelessness caught my attention and I firmly believe they deserve our support. Issues like homelessness can often feel overwhelming at a national level, but the answer to “how can we make a difference?” is simple: one person at a time.

What really impresses me about York Road Project ethos is their ability to see the individual, and their ambition to find solutions. 

From YRP’s Outreach program – where they will go out and literally try to find people sleeping rough anywhere within Woking and Waverley Boroughs and sometimes beyond – to the offer of immediate overnight accommodation, to support during the daytime at The Prop (where people can get access to showers, a laundry and computers) right through to the ultimate goal of finding permanent independent accommodation, however hard and difficult that might seem at the outset. It’s a successful model that could be rolled out town by town.

Woking itself is going through a huge transition currently  - three 30+ storey towers are being built in the heart of the town and can be seen from miles away  - and there is more development to follow.

It would be nice to think that the new 2020 Woking could be a place that is free of the scourge of rough sleeping and homelessness, and where people from all walks of life will be valued, listened to and offered support and guidance wherever possible. The YRP has a crucial role to play in helping make this a reality.