About A Strand.

During 2013/14 Lewis embarked on a photography essay showcasing the lives of people living and working on London's most famous street, The Strand. The documentary looked at the the diversity of lives, jobs and cultures. It also looked into mental health issues, how homeless people lived their lives and coped with sleeping on the street, high profile businesses and also people working to support those who need help the most in the area.

The Strand starts at Trafalgar Square and follows it's way for just under a mile to reach Temple Bar where Fleet Street then continues into the city of London. The street was popular with the British upper classes between the 12th and 17th centuries, with many historically important mansions being built between the Strand and the river. Some of these buildings include Somerset House, Durham House and Cecil House.

The character's that can be found living and working there can be complex to colourful Homeless war veterans, market traders high end business and political folk all mingle. Homelessness is an issue, with now an estimated 5000 people living on the streets of London alone. The work was used to promote mental health and also take away the stigma for people living on the streets.

In 2015 Lewis held the finished exhibition of work that took nearly two years to complete. The event raised nearly £700 for the Mental Health Foundation, it also told the stories off all the amazing people interviewed. Some stories were tragic but many stories showed huge positives of how people struggling with mental health were successful.

Lewis would like to thank Ken, if it was not for meeting Ken who was homeless on The Strand this work would have never been put together. Ken was in a bad way when Lewis first met him, but over two years after meeting Ken had turned his life around. He may not have been able to do it without the support of organisations's helping him, yet his sheer determination to get back on his feet has ended up with Ken now living in accommodation and back into work.

First Impressions Can Make A Big Impact

There are complex reasons why people end up on the street. I have been documenting these situations for almost two years and what I have found has touched me in many ways.

To get these voices heard I have used my camera. The images are mine, the voices belong to these people.

Having suffered from mental health problems myself I realise the vulnerability of many of the people I met on this journey.

It is said that we are only three pay cheques from being in such a situation ourselves.

Gazz - Homeless - Age 57

I interviewed Gazz on a Sunday, I had meet him a number of times before but I had never seen him look as bad as on this day. I asked him if he was okay. His comments 'Well its black Sunday'. I was puzzled by this remark but he replied 'We call Sundays black Sundays as there are not many people around so we don't get the money that we would normally get when begging'. My understanding is that this then affects the alcohol intake and more people suffer with cold turkey or the DT's. Yes! Black Sundays!

From London Gazz grew up in Hammersmith and is a life long Chelsea supporter. He had a normal upbringing, was married and worked as a cab driver in London. He became addicted to alcohol and this contributed to him losing his business and his marriage. When I had interviewed Gazz he had spent nearly twelve years living on the streets around the UK. During his rambles around the UK he spent a few days sleeping rough on the top of Snowdon where the train stops to let passengers off. For people who are not from the UK this is a rural mountain in Snowdonia over 1000 meters high.

He drinks from the moment he wakes until he sleeps, he can earn between £80 to £100 per day begging on the street and this pays for his alcoholism. Gazz has applied for rehab but due to constantly being on the move the authorities cannot help. It is necessary to be in an area for six months before local authority can assist.

Having spent time seeing Gazz over the period of visits I have seen him on a high and on a low. I would like to think he wants to leave this predicament that he faces behind him. He obviously needs help but also needs to help himself, especially with the alcohol addiction.

Robin - Homeless - Age 23

A twenty three year old from Poland, Robin was a very quiet person. The one thing that was obvious was he did not drink or take drugs, he was clean just homeless. I had met Robin on a number of occasions on the underground walkway on Charring Cross begging all alone. I worried what could happen to him being on the streets by himself, however everybody tends to know everybody who is homeless in the same area and I think that some of the guys would take him under their wing if they thought he was in a predicament.
He told me that he had trained as a chef in Poland but there was no work. His next move to Amsterdam did not work he then spent two years living on the streets of Amsterdam and made his way to London. He tried to find work on arrival but due to having no fixed abode he could not open a bank account. This lead to him struggling to get work or help for being homeless. He has now been on the Strand begging for two years.
He did not want to talk too much about his childhood or background. When I asked him had he ever though about drink or drugs whilst living homeless he said he would never want to do any as his farther was an alcoholic and this had obviously affected his upbringing.

I asked him what went through your mind when he saw wealthy people visiting places like the Savoy or spending money in the area. He said, "I get very pissed off with this; all I want to do is work and get myself out of this position. Because I can't get a bank account or have a fixed abode I cannot get a job. I feel judged when the people see me on the street begging. It is not what I want, I just want to be given a chance."

Robert - Homeless - Age 47

Robert was born in London but has a West Indian background. He said that he had lost all his family. He told me that he had been out of work for a long time suffering with mental health and depression and he struggled to deal with daily life. His enjoyments are soul music and alcohol. His memory when I interviewed him was very hazy; he says he thinks he has been dependant on alcohol for 20 years.
At the age of 20 he served time in prison and can only recollect having a 2 year high point during his life. When I asked him what was his aspirations for the future he said that all he wanted to do was be able to drink.

I think that Robert has the greatest smile in the entire exhibition.

Steve - Homeless - Age 48

Born in Wolverhampton Steve was put into care at a young age. He was sexually abused, forced into having sex at the age of just five. This abuse caused Steve severe mental health problems and he was found foster homes 8 times. At the age of twelve he wanted to leave the area he was in so he hiked to London but by the age of 13 he was sent to a young offenders institute. Later in life Steve married and had a family but his relationship failed and he found himself living on the streets around the UK for over 20 years.
He now sells the Big Issue on the Strand. He manages his life in difficult circumstances very well indeed. He budgets all money that he takes; the first ten pounds cover his shelter meals and the second ten pounds covers all his internet hours. He keeps in touch with his family on a daily basis via Facebook and email during the evenings. His daughter set his accounts up for him so he could contact her in case of emergencies. As his family are all in the Midlands he saves his money from selling the Big Issue and travels to see them when ever he can.
Steve was very open during his interview. I feel he is now institutionalised to life on the streets and would struggle to fit back into what we look on as a normal way of life. His love for his children was easy to see. They understand why he lives as he does and they are always there for support.

Steve was also the first person to warn me of the dangers of what could possibly happen whilst interviewing homeless people. People who are desperate can be dangerous. He warned me to watch out for the physical aspects of abuse such as swelling and redness of hands, injecting holes, smells and red eyes. I noted all these signs during my time working on the streets. Steve's advice was very important as most of these aspects would not have crossed my mind.

Shamrock - Homeless - Age 37

I was born in the Republic of Ireland, Rosscomon. I always had trouble at home. I grew up with 13 of us living at home. My dad was not a good man at all. He was extremely abusive and by the age of twelve I became pregnant by him. I later lost the baby. My father was locked up for his constant abuse but my story hit the national headlines. Living in a small community people were always looking and commenting about me so I left home at a very early age to get away.
I met somebody and we had 5 children but our relationship was very rocky. He would drink and beat me. We lost all the children due to his abusive behaviour. They have been in care ever since and my partner is now serving a sentence for what he had done to me. I speak to all my children and love them all.
So far out of my 37 years of life I have spent 20 years on and off the street. My friends are all here: they are like my family.

While I was coordinating the exhibition I stayed in contact with Shamrock, I was very pleased to hear that she had got herself into a hostel and was trying to get off the alcohol and drugs.

Mark - Homeless - Age 52

Mark was born in Malta, but ended up as a young child in Manchester. He grew up in pubs as his parents were publicans. As a 3 year old child he was abused by his Grandfather. When he tried to tell people they thought he was looking for attention, and he was ridiculed for this by his family. Mark was very open about this issue and told me some horrific things that had happened as a young child. These incidents caused Mark terrible mental health problems which he has carried around with him ever since. Mark felt he was let down by his family and local authorities for not taking him seriously about his Grandfather.

Mark met a lady and they had a son but she was not interested in having a relationship with him. His son is now 22 and he has not seen him since his first birthday. He trained as a mechanic but alcohol has got the best of him and he has not worked for 2 years due to being dependant on drink. Mark said he had been in rehab at least 3 times but it has not worked.

Mark did not tell me how long he had been homeless or even how long he had been in London. He did not miss Manchester and wants to get back into work and off the alcohol. I can only make my comments on my first impression of meeting him but he was very open with me. Maybe it was because he does not know me or that he has trusted me and just wanted to get things off his chest. I got the impression that he was a nice person who just needed a break. I hope he gets his break.

Rosie/Rosanna - Homeless - Age 39

By the time I had met Rosie she had been homeless on the Strand for one year. She is a 39 year old from Ashford in Kent and like many of the other people I had interviewed Rosie had a fair education and spent 10 years as a carer looking after people. Rosie had everything that a normal working person would have. She was working, she had a car and was paying for a flat.

Rosie had suffered with mental health problems growing up. She had her good days and bad days during the few years before becoming homeless. She had personal problems that lead her to lose everything that she owned. Rosie served a number of short sentences in prison and in the end her would fell apart and she found herself living on the streets.

After a period of time Rosie was taken in by Connections but had to leave after 6 months. She was sleeping rough on a daily basis by the time we had this interview. I liked Rosie. She showed strength, she did not show any remorse for her position in life and I hope that she will find a way out. Rosie is a good example of the fine line we all walk.

Orange Peel aka Squiral - Homeless - Age 43

Orange peel was a real character. It was obvious that he was addicted to alcohol but he was always friendly towards me and I always noticed his care towards other homeless people. It was always tricky trying to ask him questions due to the amount of alcohol he had drunk. His stories were always of Iraq and his service out there. I got the impression that he had been right on the front line. His recollection of missions were terrifying, like a number of the homeless people that I interviewed who served in the forces. I often wonder if he had returned with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but he did not receive the help that he should have done. I was also made aware that he had flat lined on the street due to his body going into shock because he had no alcohol over s short period of time. He was revived in hospital and then taken back to the Strand. This was only a few days before I took this image.

I was shocked when I contacted an agency who were supposed to deal with homeless ex forces in order to try and help him. They told me to be careful of the stories that homeless people may tell. This was really upsetting for me as I felt he was being judged before we had even been seen by anyone. What chance does somebody like Orange peel have when organisations who are set up to help servicemen come out with comments such as this.

Orange peel said he said he was British. Ever since he could walk all he ever wanted to do was sing. He told me that he served out of Bas-sing bourne Barracks and was in Iraq and Afghanistan. He admitted he was addicted to alcohol and suffered with mental health problems which is why he consumed so much drink.

I really hope he is well and getting the help that he needs.