‘The Hostel’

A week in the life of a London Hostel - shot for book 'Economy': Elephant & Castle Documentary
Each year the MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography students from the London College of Communications work on a project documenting the Elephant and Castle. They are given a simple theme and encouraged to find engaging ways of producing documentary photographs. This exhibition emerged from students working on the twin themes of ‘work’ and ‘economy’.

I am showing my photo story ‘Hostel’, a week in the life of The Cricketers Hostel in Elephant and Castle and its residents. The Cricketers is a beaten, crooked building nestled between a parking bay and a pizza delivery outlet.

This is a particularly strange little place, unusual in that it seems to have escaped all the usual corporate trappings of the Hostel chains and has kind of slumped into a life of its own. It is slightly seedy, downmarket, strangely timeless, but full of life nonetheless. There are hostels all over London. They typically cater for travellers from Canada, America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia: people working and studying in the UK for short periods of time, adventurers on a budget. However ‘The Cricketers’ seems to attract another, more motley bunch. UK residents, older than the average student or traveller, co-exist with the flow of internationals and tend to be billeted in the seven-bed dormitories. Some of these people have stayed for years. For them, the very cheapest accommodation is a priority. The sporadic shift work undertaken by these chefs, postal workers and security guards results in a nightly traffic of weary bodies collapsing into, and heaving out of, creaking metal bunk beds. There is no receptionist, no student bar, no breakfast, not much sleep and never, ever any privacy.

In conversations I learned that separation from relationships and estrangement from children, the need to pay divorce maintenance coupled with the severe lack of affordable housing, has led some of these longer-term residents here. I moved in and became resident of the hostel. After living there for a time I pinned up a notice asking if anyone might let me to take their portrait and interview them about their lives, about how they had come to be in the hostel and what their future plans were. Their stories, interesting, sad, hopeful, funny and true, were as fascinatingly varied as the people themselves.

The Cricketers Hostel has three floors, several dormitories (the larger and more populated, the cheaper) two bathrooms and three toilets. Life centres around the kitchen, a hub of activity at whatever time of day or night, or in the television lounge downstairs, residents chipping in to a weekly ‘food pot’ fund evening meals, cooked by one of the resident chefs. After being accepted as ‘one of them’ I was able to photograph moments of fun, reflection, sadness and community.

A tension was evident between the needs of a group of disparate, mainly transient, people. There was the need to co-exist and the desire to form closer friendships and lasting bonds. Definite hierarchies had formed between the residents in the hostel but there was always the sense that newcomers were welcome. Consistently though, the search for a piece of personal privacy was difficult in such a limited social space.