Relative Poverty: A display designed especially for libraries

Last year, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report that found there were 1.25 million people in the UK living in destitution, including 312,000 children. More than three-quarters of destitute people reported going without meals, while more than half were unable to heat their home. Destitution affected their mental health, left them socially isolated and prone to acute feelings of shame and humiliation. Reading this report prompted photographer Les Monaghan to start a project with families defined as destitute in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, resulting in an exhibition called Relative Poverty.

Display especially designed for libraries

Display especially designed for libraries

Les set about creating an exhibition that would give a rounded, layered and personal view of the complexities of destitution, highlight its importance as an issue for everyone in our society. From the start, Les’ intention was that the exhibits would be displayed not in art galleries, but in local community venues, in particular, libraries. The idea behind the project fits well with public libraries’ role in tackling social inclusion and advancing social justice and community engagement.

The exhibition has been especially designed to be displayed in libraries, consisting of mounted prints and texts suspended above bookshelves. Its flexible size suits small branches as well as larger libraries. Further images and links can be accessed via library computers. To provide a focus and attract interest locally, an artist talk with local guests will take place at every library.

"First you'll close your eyes to the pictures"

“First you’ll close your eyes to the pictures”

Over the next year, Relative Poverty will be exhibited in all 25 Doncaster libraries, beginning with Askern Community Library and Balby Community Library in May 2017, and culminating in a final exhibition, sharing, and public Q and A at Doncaster Central Library in 2018. It is also being shown in Sheffield Central Library from 10th-30th June 2017. Many of the images and accompanying stories are also online on the Relative Poverty website.

Nick Stopforth, Head of Libraries and Culture at Doncaster Council, said:

“Doncaster Libraries were very pleased to work with Les on Relative Poverty. This is for two reasons; firstly, Les’s work to highlight inequality and deprivation within any given community raises issues of fairness and civic responsibility. One of the key roles for libraries, from my perspective, is to ensure there are places which provide a level playing field for people, for example through free access, a helpful, welcoming support, and with the resources for people to do whatever it is they need to do in life to experience things in a new or better way.

I think about Les’s work and what it means to be destitute, and the synergies with the venue of the library as one place within a range within communities which can be catalysts for positive, democratising change. The library becomes more than just a venue, then, but a place where an audience can engage with the subject matter – it places the issues into the heart of the community and reflects the issues back to the community. And secondly, I am personally keen to see Doncaster’s Libraries, and other venues in communities across the borough, to become increasingly known as places to experience great art; and working with Les and other talented artists across the borough, this exhibition becomes part of that journey.”

Comments from people who have viewed the exhibition so far include:

‘I was really hit by the exhibition, the photos of the privately rented property in that disgusting state particularly’ – Ben Corbridge, Branch Libraries Operations Manager, Doncaster Libraries

‘I was drawn straight in by the photographs, it felt like I was there, and the words helped me understand’ – Basil, library and drop-in volunteer

Les’ aim now is to expand the reach of Relative Poverty through libraries and other community networks nationally.

If you are interested in finding out more, please contact Les Monaghan:


07817 526178

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