From under the arches to Royal Opera House: homeless get their big break

  • @MrNickClark

A mother and daughter folk duo, a hip-hop collective and a poetry group from Aldershot are to perform at the Royal Opera House in a show with a difference: every performer has lived rough on the streets. The show, With One Voice, also marks the first time the homeless have been officially recognised at the Olympics.

Streetwise Opera, a charity that uses music as a tool to help the homeless, came up with the idea for the 2 July event, featuring 300 performers who have all, at some stage in their lives, lived on the streets. They will perform a series of acts in the ROH's Paul Hamlyn Hall and the Crush Room.

Among the performers is Rudi Richardson, pictured below, who was born in a women's prison, was a drug addict for over 30 years and lived on the street. Mr Richardson turned his life around and founded Streetlytes, a charity that helps the poor and homeless find housing and deal with mental health and substance abuse problems. "The creative side helped me so much," he said. "It's a powerful interchange of the human spirit."

Mr Richardson will sing his own composition at the event: "This evening is a chance to celebrate the creativity of the homeless," he said. "The cultural side helps the homeless by raising their self-esteem. Give them their dignity back and they will look to lift themselves up. Many homeless programmes lack this."

Other performers include Svetlana and Alina Pruteanu-Teodoru, a folk playing pair from Romania, now living in London. Svetlana came over to the UK to support her daughter who had fallen on hard times, and she too became homeless. Despite ending up on the missing persons list, they eventually got their lives back on track.

A singer-songwriter with the stage name Floetic Lara ran away from home at the age of 12 and slept rough in adventure playgrounds, as it was hard to find services to support young women under 16.

She eventually found a refuge and went into care. Now she has her own flat and works with young people. She said: "I've always wanted to perform on such a stage. It's great that lots of people who've been through so much are getting together and expressing ourselves."

Matt Peacock, the founder and chief executive of Streetwise Opera, said it would be the first time homeless people had been given a platform at the Olympics. "In previous Olympics the homeless people have been moved off the streets while the spotlight has been on the city," he said. "This is about highlighting the homeless and doing something to give them a visible welcome during the Olympics."

Others acts taking part include the Choir with No Name, which runs choirs for homeless people and have supported Coldplay; Merger, a hip-hop collective from Bristol; and Veteran Voices, a homeless poetry group of veterans from Aldershot. Tickets go on sale next week for the event, which forms part of the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad that runs alongside the Olympics.

The event was backed by Ruth Mackenzie, director of the Cultural Olympiad, Andrew Barnett of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which supports charitable causes, and Jenny Edwards, the former head of Homeless Link.

Mr Peacock said he was talking to officials in Rio about creating a similar event for the 2016 Games.