top of page

A Look Back at 'Make Life Worth Living': Nick Hedges for Shelter at the Science Museum.

In 2014, I was lucky enough to visit Nick Hedges' exhibition for Shelter at the Science Museum in London.

This was a free exhibition and we were so lucky we came across it, as I had no idea it was on! It was one of the most moving, thought provoking exhibitions I've ever seen! Seriously, we had discussions around the dinner table about it for days afterwards!

"The thing about people living in slum housing is that there is no drama... It's about the absolute wearing down of people's morale in a quiet and undemonstrative way."

Nick Hedges

The images hanging in this exhibition were taken between 1962 and 1978, mainly in the North of England and had been restricted from view for 40 years to protect the anonymity of their subjects.

The photographs captured life in the slums and tenements of Northern Britain; areas which were often forgotten and left to rot and decay by governments and officials. I guess it was easier to ignore.

Then, the charity Shelter (who aim to help and advise the homeless and poorly housed, whilst trying to tackle the causes of these situations) sent in photographer Nick Hedges, just 25 at the time and having just graduated from Birmingham College of Art, where his final project was based around the city's badly housed.

It was Nick's job to expose the terrible conditions that these people were living in; to make people stop and take notice and to get the authorities to do something about it.

Some images had excerpts next to them, written by Nick himself on the stories behind them. It gave a real humanity to the images, made the people in them seem more real. And most of these stories were harrowing.

One particular image and story which stays with me is the story of Mrs H. who, whilst living in a run-down tenement with her husband and baby boy and which had been deserted by all other families, one morning awoke to the noise and destruction of a demolition team in the process of knocking down the building. Mrs H ran out to stop the demolition; her baby was inside. The team replied that they thought the building was empty. After all, it was uninhabitable.

Mrs. H, Nick Hedges 1968-72

There were stories of government officials declaring lived-in dwellings unfit 'for human habitation' stories of families having to cook a meagre dinner on their open fire, in the dark because they did not have enough money to pay the electricity bill. Hedges himself once even gave a family one of his own lightbulbs.

Mr and Mrs. M, Nick Hedges, 1969

Mr and Mrs. T, Nick Hedges, 1968-72

And yet, amongst all the desolation and devastation, girls still put on make-up, children still smiled, swings were still swung and games were still played. Even on the bottom of the pile, the human spirit still endures.

Boys in a Playground Nick Hedges, 1969

This was definitely one of the best exhibitions I have visited. Sadly, it is no longer open, but you can find out more information about Nick Hedges, the exhibition and Shelter, including how to donate, here:

You can also purchase the book to accompany the exhibition here; exclusive to the Science Museum, £2 of each sale goes to Shelter to help even more people. Because, as was stated at the exit to the exhibition at the museum, poverty and homelessness still exist in England today. While people may not have to endure the squalor of the slums of the 1960s, every 11 minutes, a family in the UK loses their home.


bottom of page