• Sadie Phew

Phew: Moving On!

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Well, it's been a tumultuous time for me lately but things are looking up now. This past year I'd been renting from a live-in landlord, with the last 6 months being particularly difficult. Around the point of realising how unhealthy my living environment was, lockdown happened and I wasn't able to move. I dealt with it by having good boundaries around my personal space, gardening, therapy, meditation, putting energy into my artwork, setting up a business and planning performances, but things came to a head a few weeks ago and I found myself homeless overnight and sleeping in my art studio. I have found out since that live-in landlord set ups don't allow the tenant as many rights as a normal tenancy, even if a formal tenancy agreement has been signed. Although I'm yet to find out the specifics.

Luckily I have amazing friends. I fled an unsafe situation on a Thursday night/Friday morning at 3am, my friend took me in at hers over the weekend, and by the Sunday every last belonging had been packed and moved out thanks to a team of good friends and support from the police. A friend advised me that councils have a legal obligation to find emergency accommodation within 48 hours for anyone who's been made homeless. I see homeless people every day in Bristol and assumed there isn't any help due to Tory funding cuts over the past 10 years. Being homeless isn't just about sleeping on the streets, that's only what is visible, the housing crisis is much bigger than that with so many 'hidden homeless' people like me, staying temporarily with a friend and in unstable living situations. So I phoned the council to see if any support is available and now I'm being supported to get my own flat though a private rental scheme, which should offer me some stability at least. Council housing is in such short supply and in Bristol homeless people can wait in shared emergency accommodation for up to a year and a half for a council owned property to become available. I understand that having a dog is a barrier to receiving this support.

So, every cloud has a silver lining, and it looks like my clouds are getting more shiny by the day. I am bubbling over with joy and nervous anticipation about getting my own place. I can't believe it til it's happened, but I deserve this more than I can put into words right now. I'm very proud of my resilience at the moment. Homelessness has always been my Achilles Heel. I had a big adrenaline crash a week after the initial incident where I realised I wasn't safe and had to leave immediately. My energy levels and ability to work have been affected, I've been inconvenienced by having boxes of my kitchenware at the studio, and I've had to shift my focus from my creative work to sorting out my housing situation, just when I was really in the flow. Fortunately though, I've been able to be kind to myself and allow myself to rest when i need to, I sought advice from trusted friends, I called in support and I asked for help. I'm very sad about my cucumber plants dying. They didn't survive the transplant trauma. I also wasn't able to harvest the beetroots and the carrots I planted back in June and have been caring for ever since. I am reminded of the commission I painted for Oblique Arts in June (pictured below) for their online gallery, featuring those same beetroots and carrots and a crying face. It's like I had a premonition about this happening.

'Post-Covid Utopia', 2020, 60cm x 42cm, mixed media on canvas, by Sadie Phew

I have continued to work over this time, although much more slowly. Gen and I worked on a giant collaborative painting (pictured) bringing together all of the audience responses to the questions we asked at the end of our Hazmat & Covid performances, 'What is life AC (After Covid)?'. This piece of community artwork is a collaboration between us and our audiences who made drawings and answered questions after our shows in the streets and parks of Bristol in August. We love it and think it captures the chaos of the these times really well. We are looking for an exhibition space where the artwork can find a loving home, either temporary or permanent, where it can be enjoyed by as many people as possible, and also be seen by the people who contributed to making it. Please get in touch if you have some ideas about exhibition spaces.

'Hazmat & Covid: Moving On!' 121.5cm x 173cm, Mixed Media on Canvas © 2020 Sadie Phew - & Genevieve Davis

I've also been working with film-maker Alex Tabrizi finalising the last details so he could finish the editing process. I got in touch with Alex initially to film a 1-2 minute film documenting the community arts project and our final street performance, but his creative input developed it into something more. We filmed in the studio at the beginning of our art-making process, did some sketches and improvised interviews and have ended up with a 17 minute long short comedy film. I have seen the final film and couldn't stop laughing from start to finish. The camera work, editing and characters are great and I'm so excited for our film screening where we'll share our film via a Facebook Live event and hold a Q&A with Hazmat, Covid and Alex Tabrizi. We are planning the event for October so keep an eye out on our facebook or Instagram page for more details.

I'm really enjoying my work at the moment and I don't doubt my decision to quit my nasty old office job back in June. I enjoy designing projects that work to my strengths and it's such a relief to make my own schedule which works with my energy levels. For years my worklife has involved constantly forcing myself to perk up, smash coffee into my face, and get back to hammering away at some spreadsheet like a machine. I've found that I have more energy now I'm doing work that aligns with my values and that I enjoy. I've learned alot in a short time recently: about working with others, how I like to work, conflict resolution, stage craft, character development, street theatre, improvising, acting for screen, making websites, flyers, promoting events, Search Engine Optimisation, facebook live streaming, social media management, writing blogs, funding applications, getting a project off the ground, adapting the arts to the new covid world, budgeting. They don't call me Sadie Phew for nothing!

For 10 years now I've worked on community arts projects with Oblique Arts, a Cambridge based arts charity, but in recent years since living in Bristol it hasn't been my focus. I would use up my holiday allowance from a full-time job to take part in arts projects at festivals such as The Pedal Powered Barbers and the Folk Festival Arts Installation. I would end up feeling burned out as I didn't take proper holidays to relax. Now that creative work is my main focus I am able to give the best of myself, rather than turning up tired and cramming it in around other priorities. I want to thank Oblique Arts for funding the development of Hazmat & Covid with an Arts Council England grant, and look forward to planning more projects in Bristol and beyond and creating a supportive network of other artists to work with.

I've got a few commissions in my studio waiting to be finished as my work has been delayed by recent stresses, but i'm looking forward to getting back on track in the coming weeks. I want to create meaningful, one-of-a-kind collaborative artwork that people can feel proud to have played a part of making and to display it in their homes. I am looking forward to focusing my energy onto these pieces of art next.

Onwards and upwards.

Sadie Phew!

****For anyone else experiencing homelessness or unstable housing, you can call Bristol City Council on 01173526800 to see if you can get some support. Please share this info with anyone who could benefit from it.

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