An immersive ‘secret museum’ has helped a filmmaker who struggled with homelessness to share his experience of being homeless during the pandemic.

Museum of Homelessness (MoH) is a community driven social justice museum, created and run by people with direct experience of homelessness, and set up as a Secret Museum in response to the pandemic and its impact on the homelessness community. 

After receiving a £98,000 grant from the National Lottery to fund workshops, research, creative employment for people with experience of homelessness, two artists commissions and a digital platform, MoH also managed to set up The Secret Garden across 11 days in October to help tell the story of what happened to the homeless community during the pandemic.

With visitors having to follow a trail of clues to find the location, The Secret Museum displayed objects and stories from activists, community organisers and people who live at the sharp edge of inequality, such as filmmaker Paul Atherton.

Hillingdon Times: People on the trail of the Secret MuseumPeople on the trail of the Secret Museum

Having been homeless since 2009 following an error in his credit file, Atherton has also had to battle with chronic fatigue syndrome which sometimes causes him to use a wheelchair.

Atherton has even created a documentary film, 90 Days of Hope, about his experience of the government’s reaction to the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic, where he was taken from rough sleeping in Heathrow Airport’s terminal five to a hotel accommodation.

Now living in insecure temporary accommodation, Atherton said: “Museum of Homelessness is a classic example of a grassroots organisation that understands what it's doing and trying to end the problem for good – it’s what the big organisations need to be looking at.

“The worst temporary accommodation I was ever sent to by the local authority claimed to be wheelchair-friendly, but it was actually on a first floor at the top of a flight of stairs in Vauxhall.

“I crawled up the stairs, and when I got there, the front door had been kicked in, there was a blood-stained mattress, a horrible stench -it was horrendous.

“The year I lost my home was the year London lost its way. The portrayal in the media of homelessness and the welfare system isn't correct - that's why Museum of Homelessness, especially the Secret Museum, was a great way of delivering the truth directly to the people.

“They were able to engage with me, and I break all the stereotypes. I'll do more in a week than most people do in a lifetime, even with a disabling disease and not having a house.”

Hillingdon Times: Guide at the Secret MuseumGuide at the Secret Museum

Museum of Homelessness co-founder Matthew Turtle said: “We were really pleased that over 70% of attendees who came to Secret Museum felt that the experience enriched their understanding of what happened to people affected by homelessness in the pandemic. This is a real success story because producing creative work in an ongoing pandemic is hard work.

“The Secret Museum has helped to drive the importance of challenging established narratives about homelessness and bring together different people and groups at a time when things have been difficult.

“The help from The National Lottery has been invaluable - their support has ensured that we have been able to safeguard and share the heritage of homelessness in the UK and preserve it for future generations.”

Strictly Come Dancing star Neil Jones, who struggled with homelessness as a teenager, is highlighting the incredible support National Lottery-funded homeless projects have provided to people all over the UK during the last 10 years.

The 31-year-old professional dancer is now a regular fixture on screens across the UK, but just a few years ago he was in a very different position and, for a brief time, he even found himself sleeping rough on the streets.

Hillingdon Times: Strictly star Neil Jones is now helping promote the National Lottery's work with homeless projectsStrictly star Neil Jones is now helping promote the National Lottery's work with homeless projects

With Christmas fast approaching, Neil is helping to highlight the extensive funding and support The National Lottery has provided to homelessness projects over the last decade.

Since 2010, more than half a billion pounds (over £576 million) has been awarded to more than 3,000 projects that involve or support homeless people or help tackle homelessness throughout the UK.

Jones said: “With winter upon us and Christmas just around the corner, now is the perfect time of year to spare a thought for those who don’t have a home to go to or have somewhere safe, comfortable and warm to sleep over the festive period.

“It’s tough to think about the difficult things they’re going through at this time of year because it’s such a time of joy for most of us, but it’s important to recognise that there are so many people out there who really do need our help. 

“Thankfully, there are countless incredible charities and organisations doing some really incredible work supporting homeless people across the UK with National Lottery funding.” 

Hillingdon Times: Neil Jones experienced homelessness himself as a teenagerNeil Jones experienced homelessness himself as a teenager

The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK, alone has awarded more than 600 grants worth around £80 million to projects that involve homeless people since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

David Knott, Chief Executive of The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, we are able to provide much-needed funding to incredible organisations that are making an important difference to people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

“Whether supporting people experiencing homelessness to improve prospects for employment, supporting with mental health or providing a safe place where people can build their confidence and self-esteem, dedicated groups and their volunteers are working tirelessly with the homeless community, so that they are better able to overcome challenges and hopefully go on to prosper and thrive.” 

Thanks to National Lottery players, more than £30 million goes to good causes across the UK every week, which in turn helps charities and organisations which support homeless people in our communities. To find out more about National Lottery funding go to​