Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Bishopbridge Internship, Entry 1

January 22nd, 2010 · 1 Comment

About the Organization

On Wednesday morning, my first meeting regarding my internship with St. Martin’s Housing Trust was a success.  Supposedly located at 35 Bishopgate (near the Adam and Eve Pub, the primary schools, and the hospital), I took the 25 bus into the city center and decided to walk the rest of the way.  In fact, the website of the organization misled me to its office complex, located a few blocks away from where I was meant to be.  Thus, after being directed elsewhere, I made my way to Bishopbridge House at 45 William Kett Close on Gas Hill. (The Bishopbridge Housing leaflet may be found here.)

Anna Hassan, my contact for this assignment, greeted me and showed me to her office to tell me a bit about the association and discuss my plans for working with her staff.  In the progression from sleeping on the streets to having permanent housing, Bishopbridge House is the opening landmark.  That is to say, Bishopbridge is the first accommodation of many in the arduous process of escaping homelessness.  It specializes in providing aid for people with drug problems, alcohol problems, or mental illness.  Because of this (and because Bishopbridge precedes any other accommodations a person might receive), this particular group has a responsibility to link patrons with organizations dealing with addiction or other disabilities to make them more “marketable” to other groups.   By introducing clients to sobriety, independence, and a sense of responsibility, these people become more likely to receive other types of aid just by beginning their journey at Bishopbridge.

The first step involves actually finding these people and letting them know that accommodations such as Bishopbridge exist.  The organization has a routine series of stops to check for “rough sleepers,” and the town council also alerts them to potential people in need of help and shelter.  Each morning and evening, a team embarks into Norwich to extend a hand to the homeless they find along the way (which, according to Anna’s recounts, didn’t often seem to be a particularly high number-perhaps three or four people in a session, some of which may decline access to the shelter).  The winter months provide a particular challenge, though.  Legislation dictates that if the weather drops below zero degrees Celsius for three nights in a row, the shelter is required to house all those desirous of lodging regardless of available space.  If this occurs, Bishopbridge becomes overcrowded and understaffed, but it does keep the homeless safe from the elements for a short period of time.

To expand, issues of space do affect Bishopbridge regularly.  The shelter has a very high turnover rate, meaning that the staff accepts clients, assesses their individual needs, provides an appropriate starting point to receive help, and moves them to the next step in accommodations as soon as possible.  This allows the shelter to serve as many people as possible simply by getting them off the streets as quickly as possible.  A free bed is a total rarity at Bishopbridge, thus proving that all space is usable and lodging is in high demand.  While the teams that actually trek the streets (the CAPS) encourage Bishopbridge to take more and more clients, the staff is forced to counter this due to space, time, and resource constraints.  This constant push and pull between the CAPS and the staff is one problem that Bishopbridge faces.

Staying in the house costs twenty five pounds per week (in my future research, I hope to learn where clients are expected to find this money).  This charge helps cover costs of food, electricity, water, and basic maintenance of the organization itself.  Regarding food, there are two halves of the building.  In one, a chef cooks all meals for the clients who often speak of “moving up to the other side.”  Once promoted, so to speak, they receive a bit more responsibility: the shelter returns twenty pounds of the fee for food shopping.  On their first excursion, a patron and a member of staff go together to learn how to make nutritious, affordable meal choices.  When their dependability is proven, clients may food shop on their own.  However, they must continue to present the receipts to make sure that appropriate selections are being made each time.

At Bishopbridge, people may keep their pets.  Dog training classes are available, as well as recreational lessons like computer classes (where usage of Facebook is taught to reunite clients with their families and friends) and flower pot painting.

My Internship

I will be exploring each of the aforementioned facets of Bishopbridge’s mission over the course of a month.  For one morning session and one night session, I will go out with CAPS to the streets of Norwich and inform the homeless of Bishopbridge, as well as encourage them to use its resources.   I will also be taught how the homeless are designated to various organizations, as well as the process of moving through the system.  One Monday, I will sit in on the distribution of stipends and possibly shadow a member of staff during food shopping.  I hope to watch a recreational class in session, and generally see how the shelter is run while simultaneously learning about homelessness in Norwich as a general issue.

Hours Logged: 1

Total Hours: 1

Tags: Amy

What’s hip ’bout the airship? Steampunk in the UK

January 22nd, 2010 · 1 Comment

So this is by no means what I am doing or my presentations; however, I felt it would be of interest to you folks anyway. Over winter holiday, I went to visit the MHS (Museum of the History of Science) to see their exhibit on the art that has come out of steampunk movement, both and England and worldwide. It was fantastic, and I definitely recommend it as it is running until  February 21st.

For most people, the idea of steampunk (and the movement surrounding it) is quite foreign, so I will do my best to explain what I believe it to be. I stress that this is strictly my interpretation, as it is a severally decentralized idea with many interpretations. The way I see it there are three major aspects of steampunk. The first being the history surrounding it. The second is the art that has come from it, both literature, music and painting. And the third, is the DIY(do it yourself). 

It is difficult to pinpoint when “steampunk” first originated.  The OED places the term steampunk around 1987 by Jeter in Locus; it being based off of the previous genre of cyberpunk, which is is an entire different subject.  Despite its fairly modern coinage, steampunk has arguably been around since the Victorian era (whence it is based).  Works from Jules Verne to H.G Wells sought to look into the future of technology, using what understanding they had around them.  In more modern works, steampunk looks at modern technology and wonders how the Victorian era would have created it. How would our society have benefits or been illed if the social atmosphere of the 1800s had continued to present day?

As the art exhibit showed, steampunk is still inspiring people today to push the boundaries of what art is. There were beautifully remastered keyboards, fitted with wood panels and type-writer letters, a light fixture that was simply amazing. There were, however, less practical aspects such as a teleportation device. This blending of functionality and impractically is a keystone of the steampunk dogma. It doesn’t truly matter if something makes sense; it is almost as if steampunk asks us to question the rationality of our modernity.

The exhibit itself is very well laid out and organized, and it is a great forum for learning more, seeing its capabilities, and talking with international artists about their motivations and techniques. If anything it was great simply for the people-watching aspect. I will not embarrass myself by putting up the picture of my get up, but needless to say I went in full nerd glory. What was nice about the experience was that dressed up and not dressed up basically gave each other the same looks of curiosity– anthropologists observing a foreign culture. It felt as though there was a mutual understanding of appreciation and acceptance.

What I found most amusing about the whole experience was the music that has come out of the steampunk movement. As with many DIY groups, the instrumentation was weird to say the least.  While it wasn’t at the show this guitar is probably one of the neater things I have seen. You even have entire bands devoted to steampunk such as Abney Park.

Do it yourself comes into play for obvious reasons as there isn’t really a plethora of steampunk outlets. But it also works as a means of expression. Once you’ve sown together your first frock coat, or even your first button, there is a strange sense of pride seldom found in modern activities, not unlike finishing a painting or running a 5k. Obviously with our budges as they are arts and crafts probably aren’t on the top of anyone’s list, but it is interesting to see how much you can create with recycled goods. While it is by no means on par with Dickinson’s removal of the lunch trays (or the creation of a sushi bar), I would argue that steampunk is up there in the sustainability zone.

I think my only quarrel with the whole idea is that people often forget about the societal norms of the Victorian era.  As we have learned there certainly were social reform movements going on through Queen Victoria and Prince Albert such as the opening of parks and the support of artistic movements. Overall, however, the Victorian era was set by ridge social ques and mass oppression.  At the exhibit a young female artist tried to explain to me how the Victorian era was a period of femenistic empowerment, which is absolute bollocks. The idea of sexual equality is something only sense in period pieces when a director needs to have a head strong, coy female lead so as to attract a larger demographic (cough Guy Ritchie cough).  For that matter, sexuality in general was severally hampered. Showing your calves, man or woman, was considered an outrageous fopaux.

Much as its brother genres of the science fiction realm, it allows us an interesting thought-experiment and temporary escape. But the modern interpretation of steampunk has drifted further away from its Victorian roots. This decentralization is both a blessing and a curse, as it allows for vast array of artistic expression. It is for that reason that it is so amazing something like the exhibit at the MHS could have been put together and still seem cohesive.

If you’d like some more info on steampunk feel free to ask me anything. I don’t claim to know too much, so here are some sites that know better.




Tags: Andrew R