Charlie Wright Hopeful Traders
What were you doing before you started Hopeful Traders?
By 2015 I had been living in London for almost 3 years and working as a trainee sound engineer for a fairly successful sound studio in Soho. I could have had a stable career there, but I wasn’t finding it fulfilling. I had always been motivated to go and do something charitable and was acutely aware of my privilege. The opportunities had been laid down to me that had not been laid down to other people, so I wanted to share those opportunities, but without just giving someone something, I wanted to do something more enterprising.
What inspired the transition?
Being in Soho you see a lot of homeless people; in London, homelessness just becomes part of the scenery – normal to the extent that people ignore it. I think there is a lot of sympathy out there but people do not necessarily know how to help. People spend a lot of their money on going out and clothes, but I think given the opportunity people would want to buy something that assisted other people.
So how did the idea for Hopeful Traders come about?
At the time, ‘social enterprise’ was not a phrase I had heard of. I originally wanted to do something with music background, but it did not seem particularly feasible. I had always an interest in art and design and I thought a t-shirt brand where we worked with the beneficiaries of our work was a good idea, as opposed to chucking them money every now and then. After doing a little bit of research, you realise homelessness is not just people living on the street. There are a lot of different communities, a lot of different issues. It seemed like a good area to focus as it was something tangible for people in London to do who wanted to help. There is so much creativity in the community as well, these guys just need a platform to put their stuff out there. A good platform is clothing because you can make a connection between a person buying a piece of clothing and the person who designed it.
What is the core aim of Hopeful Traders?
It started out as giving people an opportunity to people to get their creativity out there and make them feel as though they have a presence. A lot of homeless people feel as though they are invisible. We are not big enough in terms of the financial difference we can make in people’s lives at the moment; we can make enough to support them a little bit. The situations of the artists we are working with are varying, but what is common amongst all the artists is a confidence-boost, a good feeling that people out there want to buy something they designed. The most important bit for me, which is hard to make it work financially sometimes, is the portion that goes to the charity. 10% of every t-shirt sold goes straight to the collaborator/designer and 5% goes to a charity that the collaborator/ designer has chosen, so they also get to give something back. Some of the designers we’ve worked with have even donated their artists’ fees to their chosen charities, despite having very little themselves.
What is the recruitment process for an artist?
In terms of recruitment, we work with individuals I’ve approached or who have approached me. The first thing I came across when doing my research for the company was Café Art, a social enterprise who do art projects with people who have been affected by homelessness, connecting people with cafés they can sell their art in, as well as market stalls and exhibitions. Many of the artists we’ve worked with I’ve met through café art. What I would really love to do more of is workshops with charities. We did a collaboration with an organisation called Accumulate who run creative workshops in hostels. The idea is empowering young people who are homeless or in temporary accommodation through creativity and genuine opportunities I want to work with people like that.
What has your work taught you about homelessness?
When most people think of homelessness, they probably think of street homelessness, people begging on the street and sleeping rough. Those are the people who have slipped through the and really been let down by people, whether it be the council or loved ones. But this is a pretty small percentage of the people who are homeless.
A lot of people are in hostels or are sofa surfing. Homelessness is a symptom of something else, not the issue itself. Something that happens when someone has poor mental health, bad relationships, low income backgrounds and you don’t have that safety net. It is a thing that can happen to you. I honestly think that with my own mental health issues, if I wasn’t from a fairly privileged background, if I didn’t have amazingly supportive family and friends, that could easily be me, I was just lucky. Frankly, if you come from a financially stable background, it tends not to happen, but a lot of people don’t.
The proportion of homeless people with a drug habit is actually an incredibly small population, but they have a reason to have that. The same reason someone with a load of money may have a drug habit. There are so many levels to people becoming homeless, so many variables. Maybe the only thing that ties them all together are mental health issues revolving around personal relationships. Think of people you know who has issues in personal relationships and you realise this is something that can affect everyone.
What are the greatest obstacles you’ve faced?
I think people expect working with homeless people to be the biggest challenge in that logistically it is a lot to manage. I have worked with 6 artists so far of varying degrees of homelessness and recovery. All of them have been a pleasure to work with. I think I naively thought that it would be tough, which it may become as we expand the amount of artists we work with. What has really been tough is taking the responsibility on yourself. If there’s one thing I could go back and change, it’s that I would not do this again on my own. It’s quite lonely and I put a lot of pressure on myself to do right by all the people we work with and support them as best as we can, sometimes at my own expense. It has also been my own mental health. I had quite a patchy period last year when I was pretty unhappy, and it was quite hard to motivate myself to do a lot of the work then. But I have come out on the other side more invigorated to do it. I think there was just a bit where I was so stressed about looking after the company and everyone else involved I forget to look after myself. That is important. If you do not look after yourself, the company is not going to do well and the whole reason you set up the company in the first place goes wrong anyway.
What is the most significant thing you feel like you’ve done?
There was David Toby, the first artist we worked with (I am currently cat sitting for him as he is off with his exhibition at the Tate Liverpool). At the end of our first year we had been collecting donations for the Pillion Trust, a small charity based in North London who run a shelter for young people, which was the first shelter David went into. Through sales at Camden Market we managed to raise £3000, which helped fund them over winter that year. Giving David the opportunity support the charity who, in his mind, saved his life was powerful. That was a defining moment for me.
If someone is passionate to help, how would you recommend they do?
Find something within your means. I think, me included, you sort of feel like you need to martyr yourself to do good. It shouldn’t have to be something that is sacrificial on your part. There are plenty of ways of doing things for people that are enjoyable and fulfilling and there is no reason to stretch yourself too thin. Some people can volunteer one or two days a week, some people can give £10 a month to a charity. I think the best thing is to start local, you will be surprised by the number of local community groups there are, and ask them what they need.
You see all these figures about homelessness and it’s overwhelming. You end up doing nothing because you think you can’t help all these people. But you have just got to think qualitatively. If you can help one person make one hour of their week less s*** or whatever. Scarlett Montanaro who runs a shop, Crack and Cider, where you can buy things for homeless people summed it up so well when she said, we can’t solve homelessness, but we can make someone’s life a bit less shit. Start small and achievable. I don’t think people realise how much it means to people when someone gives up a few seconds of their day just to talk to them. There is really no good deed too small.