by Emily Green
5th April 2019

Paul Sng’s Invisible Britain is a book of stories that are rarely heard. It is a book about people who are often marginalised in the media, neglected by politicians and ignored within society. Here, Emily Green tells her story.

I was born in Chelmsford in Essex and grew up in Heybridge, near Maldon, on a council estate with my mum. I remember a girl who went to my school. Her parents were both artists and they talked about her going to university. It was worlds away from my life. I wasn’t told that I could be anything.

Living a life that is affected by austerity feels like a judgement from a Tory government of who I am. I don’t feel that there’s anybody looking out for my interests as a human being.

I don’t recognise any of the things that Theresa May says. They don’t make any sense to me. They don’t seem to apply to me. Everything that she talks about seems to be against me. My mother’s got an extra bedroom, so she has to pay the bedroom tax. My mum’s got nothing. I don’t actually know how they survive. They don’t really eat very much. It makes me really sad. My mum paid her taxes, she had a good job when she was younger, and now she’s living this life where she feels like she’s got nothing. I talk to her about not voting UKIP or Conservative, ’cause she reads the Daily Mail and believes it. I tell her it’s full of lies. But there’s a whole bunch of people my mum’s age that are just swayed by the stuff that they read in the media.

At the last election, I really had to explain to my mum that the people she was voting for, or thinking of voting for, have brought in the bedroom tax. I explained that they’re stopping child benefit for more than three children, unless you’ve been raped. And then you’ve got to prove that you were raped. Mum was like, ‘No, that can’t be right’. I had to really say, ‘Mum, don’t do it’. And she went and voted Labour.

I’ve had to work really hard for everything that I’ve got now. I’ve met a lot of inspiring people that have believed in me. I was a really good youth worker – a lot of people wanted me to go into social work. I’m so glad I didn’t. Working in the system like that, it’s not for me. I meet people, kids, every day that might not be achieving or might be living under the poverty line, and social workers and establishments, they want to tick boxes with these types of people. But they’re real human beings. They’ve all got hope.

As a performance artist, I love working with children. I feel like I’m a child trapped in an adult’s body, so I can connect with them in a way that’s energising. I get real joy from working with kids who, for whatever reason, might not get access to pens, paper or whatever, and encouraging a different way of thinking or being, a new way to express themselves through dance or dressing up. Sometimes as parents we have to overlook these simple things because we’re so focused on just ‘existing’, getting by and surviving. I get kids coming through who don’t have much, whose mum may be tired and worn out, and I can provide a relief – they’re kids who grew up like me and I can feel that need to escape into fantasy, and that’s a real privilege.

Some people might categorise me as a children’s entertainer. I don’t care too much how I’m labelled, because all that matters is that visceral connection and the reaction that I hope will shape or plant an idea that these kids can be whatever they want. It doesn’t matter where they come from.

Invisible Britain: Portraits of Hope and Resilience, edited by Paul Sng is available on the Policy Press website. Order here for £16.00.

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Image Credit: Polly Alderton