A busker spent the day ‘living rough’ to raise awareness of homelessness while protesting against proposed council measures that could lead to vulnerable people being fined.
Clare Wall is more regularly seen around the city as Modern Millie – the 1920s flapper in the green hat – but on Wednesday she held ‘a solo demonstration’ to protest against Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) in the city centre.
However, just this week the authority’s Children and Families Policy and Performance Panel agreed to recommend dropping begging and bird-feeding from the PSPO in addition to abandoning plans to fine rough sleepers and unauthorised buskers following an extensive public consultation. The final decision will be made by the council cabinet next year.
Welcoming recent developments, Clare said: “People were really worried when we heard what the council had in mind but I think it’s great that busking and rough sleeping and now begging and bird-feeding are probably going to be left out after all.”
Clare, who is a self-taught operatic-style singer, immersed herself wholeheartedly in becoming a homeless person for the day from dressing down to leaving her mobile phone at home. Ironically, one of the characters she impersonates is Charlie Chaplin, the English comic actor who became a worldwide icon through his screen persona ‘the Tramp’.
The 25-year-old trained ballet dancer, who revealed she borrowed her uncle’s thermals for the day, sat at various locations from 11am until 8pm including by the railway station, at The Cross and also outside CWaC HQ. She held a cup in which she collected £102.50 for street-based soup kitchen, Soul Kitchen, which provides food to the homeless each Saturday evening in the centre of the Mecca bingo roundabout.
Clare also gained a powerful insight into how it feels to be homeless including the hunger pangs as she fasted for seven hours.
“A lot of people walked by, almost not looking at me, as if, if they looked at me, they would have to give me money. But a lot of people were really generous before they even knew what it was all about.”
Homeless friends thanked her for supporting them and having ‘our backs’.
Clare generally found people’s responses ‘positive and affirmative’ but she was asked to move on by security after she posted herself by the Christmas market. She explained that she was protesting and refused to budge and soon got the support of a market trader.
The PSPO now looks likely to focus on targeting legal highs , implementing an alcohol control zone and fining people who urinate and defecate in public.
Cllr Nicole Meardon , Labour cabinet member for children and families, told The Chronicle: “I think we have had a really successful consultation. We had to ask some difficult questions about some really difficult issues and have not been frightened to have conversations around them.”
She said the ‘wealth of data’ gathered about how people feel about their city, including community safety issues, would be useful in not only influencing the PSPO but also developing action plans around supporting homeless and vulnerable people in conjunction with public sector partners.