October 17 was declared International Day against Poverty and Social Exclusion by the United Nations in 1992. On this symbolic date, the Leuven Collective Against Poverty annually highlights a number of actions to give people in poverty a voice. This year we did so with the support of the Leuven Heritage Unit. Together we visited the city archives, provided input for the historical part of the Walk against Poverty and made a digital version available at ErfgoedApp. A fascinating process by, for and with people in poverty. Because unfortunately, poverty still squeezes.
Walk against poverty: a cocreative process
Back in 2020, the Collective Against Poverty came up with a walk as an alternative to the annual grand parade that could not take place because of COVID-19. Using a paper brochure, interested parties could follow a walking route on their own. This was such a success that the collective wanted to create a new walk for October 2021 as well. A working group of the collective together with the Leuven Heritage Unit looked into the new concept. From the angle of 'social participation', we chose a walking route along current places that are open to people in poverty. We also went in search of historical information so that the route would provide a glimpse of poverty in the past and today.
Visit to the city archives: surprisingly topical
During the creative process, we visited the Leuven City Archives with some of the collectives' initiators. We were given a VIP tour of the archive depot to get a feel for what an archive preserves. The archivists had also set up five thematic tables in the reading room with various original historical sources about poverty in Leuven: from death registers from the medieval Augustinian hospital to files and visual material about the 19th-century night shelter and public bathhouse Remy-Devleeschouwer.
The visit sparked interesting conversations and got us thinking about the links between poverty in the past and today. The historical sources and accompanying explanations immediately appealed to the imagination and were also very much in line with the group's own experiences. With these sources as a basis, the stories for the walk took definite shape and were beautifully illustrated thanks to striking archive footage and photographs. In short, a hit!
The historical and current stories fit together perfectly like puzzle pieces and the loop walk of over four kilometers was complete.
Sven, Birgit and An went to actually test out the walking tour. The tour starts at the Grote Markt and runs along some beautiful hidden paths and green oases in Leuven such as the Kruidtuin and the Dijlepark. Accessibility for baby carriages and wheelchairs has been taken into account, although you have to brave some cobblestones here and there and a steep incline up to a next stop.
Scenario in the ErfgoedApp
In addition to the paper walking brochure, we jointly determined the scenario for the digital version at Erfgoedapp: a listening walk along ten locations. This digital version aims to broaden the scope of the walk and can appeal to new target groups so that the subject can be discussed among a wider audience.
The excerpts were narrated by volunteer Reinilde and provide additional explanation at each stop. At Riddersstraat, for example, it's about the open workshop of Compagnie Tartaren, a socio-artistic theater company that creates captivating performances based on its own living environment. But at this stop, she also explains more about life in the past in the nearby Parsley Corridor:
"In the 19th century, factory workers on starvation wages had no choice but to rent a cottage in a gangske. Living conditions were miserable: there was no running water or electricity. Near Riddersstraat 77 was the Parsley corridor. Even in 1975, the mismanagement in this corridor was still denounced: a police report orders that the city's health department should intervene, because a man was found in a house full of lice ..."