Behind the life experience of many people in this project is fear. It surfaces briefly and then it dives deep again beneath the human skin of politeness, or bravado, or embarrassment. I’ve learnt to spot these moments and meet them face-to-face. Sometimes it can help people to acknowledge they fear. But other times, it’s best to let it sink back into the depths from which it came.

Today we were talking about sleeping outside. I’m not talking about glamping here, I’m talking about tucking up in whatever space you can find to get away from the cold and the rain and tiredness. (Three of the six people in the room had this experience.)

One of our writers suddenly became very quiet, turned almost as white as her blouse. “I just can’t do this,” she said. And so we talked about other ways that she could be in the group, perhaps just listening to the conversation, or reading a book, or joining in the chat when she wished to, or even dictating some lines to me if she felt like it, in response to what other people were saying.

And she did join in, tentatively at first and then growing in confidence. The other writers gave her quiet little bits of encouragement, cheering on her efforts with subtle little boosts. 

In the coffee break, she started to tell me why she got so scared and then someone came in and the moment was broken. She picked it up again at the end saying simply, “I enjoyed it. Thank you.” 

I think this was my biggest achievement all week.

By Philip Davenport. Manna House, May 2022


Refuge from the Ravens is supported by the Heritage Fund. In 1798, Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge sparked a literary revolution — poems in everyday language, telling of people on the margins of society. 200 years later, homelessness and social inequality are still with us and even on the rise. This project invited people with lived experience of homelessness and other vulnerable people to meet Wordsworth across time, replying in poetry, art and song in a Lyrical Ballads for the 21st Century.