17 October was proclaimed International Day against Poverty and Social Exclusion by the United Nations in 1992. On this symbolic date, Leuven' s Collective Against Poverty annually puts a number of actions in the spotlight 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 took care of a digital variant at ErfgoedApp. A fascinating process by, for and with people in poverty. For, alas, poverty is still a bottleneck.
Walk against poverty: a co-creative process
Already in 2020, Collective Against Poverty came up with a walk as an alternative to the annual big parade that could not take place because of COVID-19. On the basis of a paper brochure, those interested could follow a walking route on their own. This was such a success that the collective wanted to organise a new walk for October 2021. A working group of the collective studied the new concept together with the Leuven Heritage Unit. From the angle of 'social participation', we opted for a walking route along actual places that are open to people living in poverty. In addition, we joined forces to look for historical information so that the route would provide a glimpse of poverty in the past and today.
Visit to the city archive: surprisingly topical
During the creative process, we went to the Leuven City Archives with some of the initiators from the collective. We were given a VIP guided tour of the archive depot to get a feel for what an archive stores. The archivists had also set up five theme 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 bath Remy-Devleeschouwer.
The visit triggered interesting discussions and made us think about the links between poverty in the past and today. The historical sources and accompanying explanations immediately appealed to the imagination and, moreover, were very much in line with the group's own experiences. With these sources as a basis, the stories for the walk took shape and could be nicely illustrated thanks to striking archive images and photographs. In short, it was a bull's-eye!
The historical and current stories fitted together like pieces of a puzzle and the loop walk of over four kilometres was ready.
Sven, Birgit and An went to test out the walking route. 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 prams and wheelchairs has been taken into account, although you do have to tackle a few cobblestones here and there and a steep incline up to the next stop.
Scenario in the ErfgoedApp
In addition to the paper version of the walking tour brochure, we jointly defined the scenario for the digital version at Erfgoedapp: a listening tour of ten locations. This digital version is intended to increase the scope of the walk and can appeal to new target groups so that the subject can be discussed by a wider audience.
The fragments were recorded by volunteer Reinilde and provide additional explanation at each stop. On Riddersstraat, for example, they talk about the open workshop of Compagnie Tartaren, a socio-artistic theatre company that puts on exciting performances based on their own living environment. But at this stop, they also tell you more about life in the old days in the nearby Parsley Walk:
"In the 19th century, factory workers on a starvation wage had no choice but to rent a house in a gangske. The living conditions were miserable: there was no running water or electricity. At the height of Riddersstraat 77 was the Peterseliegang. Even in 1975, the mismanagement of this corridor was denounced: a police report recommends that the city's health service should intervene, because a man was found in a house full of lice ...".