Our families are not simply “homeless”
Jane Williams

Opera and homelessness, homelessness and opera – they could be seen as about as irrelevant to each other as two things could ever be.

Ok, we admit it, we might have thought something similar when Streetwise Opera first approached us. But after our wonderful collaboration, we are all converts. I can tell you how it makes sense in terms of the healing nature of creation, in terms of disrupting power structures, and most importantly in changing the stories we tell ourselves and others, and the stories we hear.


Streetwise Opera and composer Electra Perivolaris were so careful to understand our trauma informed, power-aware environment – they came to us prepared to be curious, compassionate and tolerant of a certain amount of chaos that is inevitable to ensure mums and minis are centred, and comfortable.

Electra and Marigold Hughes, Head of Programme for Streetwise Opera, allowed mums and minis to transcend their all-too-frequently imposed roles of people seeking help, advice, food, clothes – and instead gifted the time and space to be mums, sisters, daughters, singers, songwriters, dancers and musicians.

Seeing mums – who we know from our case work are in dire circumstances – singing, rocking their babies and creating incredible harmonies was truly healing. “Doing this, I remembered who I used to be – before fleeing, before children, before all this”, Mama R told me.

Even if only this had happened it would have been enough, but there was more.


Co-creating a piece of music, having equal creative input with one of the country’s best composers, doing with, rather than being done to, is in itself a transformative act.

Electra was so careful in recognising, celebrating and curating mums’ ideas and voices in her creative process. The experience of being listened to, heard and amplified – in any area of life – is not a usual one for our mums who are all-too-often led to believe that their language, experience, knowledge, story is of little importance – that what they feel, fear, hope and think does not matter.

This experience, even for a few Friday mornings is a massive shift. “I loved it, I used to write poems at home, I came up with the idea of water being everywhere”, Mama I told me.


But perhaps more important than what our mums and minis got out of this collaboration is the work that we hope this piece will do in the wider world.

Our micro-opera lets people know that our families are not simply “homeless”. They are not just “seeking safety”, or “undocumented”. They are fully human beings with hopes, fears, traditions, histories and imaginations.

At this point in time, in this most febrile and fearful environment, telling these stories (to those who might not otherwise hear them) seems vitally, urgently important.

This partnership enabled our mums to become headliners – actors on their own stage, tellers of their own story – rather than headlines.

And we know that freeing ourselves from the same old stories we hear or tell about ourselves, and the stories we hear and believe about those who are often voiceless in our society, is the only thing that will ever change the world for our beloved children.

Thank you all at Streetwise Opera.

– The image that accompanies this blog is part of the animation co-created by visual artist Amber Cooper-Davies and people with lived experience of homelessness for the micro-opera Standing By The Thames, co-created by mums and children from The Magpie Project and composer Electra Perivolaris.

Jane Williams
Founder of The Magpie Project

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