A New Angle: Marice Cumber on how creativity can empower the homeless

The founder of Accumulate, the Art School for the Homeless, wants to open up access to the positive effects of creative education still widely reserved for the privileged.

15 December 2020

This is the second edition of our new editorial series A New Angle, in which we aim to give a platform to creative industry changemakers who make it their mission to disrupt the status quo. Each week we’ll chat to a person or team doing important work in the sector, making it a fairer place, championing vital causes, supporting underrepresented groups and tackling pertinent issues facing creatives everywhere.

This week we meet Marice Cumber, founder of Accumulate, which runs creative workshops in photography, illustration, filmmaking and more, at numerous hostels across London, aiming to give homeless people new skills, confidence and community. It also recently published a graphic novel: The Book of Homelessness.

It’s Nice That: What is your mission and what about the creative industry are you hoping to change?

Marice Cumber: Accumulate is The Art School for the Homeless and we use creativity to empower people who are homeless so that they can move forwards positively with their lives. Creative education and participation should be for everyone and is such a positive force for increasing wellbeing and negative mental health and yet, too often, and especially now, it is a privilege and not accessible to those who need it. Accumulate overturns this and enables people who are struggling with so much to do something creative and enjoyable, and to become part of a creative community. 

INT: Tell us a bit about your background and that of the organisation, and what led you to this point.

MC: My background is in creative education and enterprise. I set up my first business at 23 and then entered higher education to teach enterprise skills to creative students and support them to set up their own businesses. I then decided to use these skills within the community – I approached the local YMCA hostel for the homeless and offered to do creative workshops with the residents and put on an exhibition in the foyer of the YMCA gym. Six years on, Accumulate works with 14 hostels across London, partners with major cultural museums and creative businesses and provides courses and workshops across the creative sectors.

INT: What are the major challenges you’re facing, and why?

MC: Accumulate works very closely with Ravensbourne University London, its tutors teach on the Accumulate courses and students assist. However, a huge challenge is that even though students can get loans to go to university, when you are living in a hostel with £30 in your pocket per week, the idea of taking out a loan to go to university is a challenge too far. And so another door to education closes and people with talent are denied the opportunity to progress their creative learning.

INT: How are you tackling that?

MC: Back in 2016 Accumulate fundraised to set up a scholarship scheme for Accumulate participants to study on the one-year Access to HE Certificate in Design and Digital Media at Ravensbourne. We had one student in 2016 and now, so far, 20 Accumulate participants have been awarded scholarships and eight of these have progressed on to degrees.

INT: How can the creative industry help your mission?

MC: Accumulate would love creative industry folk to come in and help deliver creative workshops and talk about their industry. It would really help to open up diversity in the sector and showcase the talents of the Accumulate participants and what they have to offer. We have also published a book this year, The Book of Homelessness – the first ever graphic novel created by people affected by homelessness in which they tell their own stories. The profits are shared with the participants and Accumulate so it can continue to run creative workshops for people who are homeless. It makes a great Christmas gift and every purchase will make a difference.

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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