As pedestrians walk above, a man below casts his rod into Bridgwater Canal in Salford, Greater Manchester in desperation of catching his next meal
Next to the humming streets and just a few feet away from a busy city road lies the shocking truth of the state of Britain’s homelessness epidemic.
As pedestrians walk above, a man below casts his rod into Bridgwater Canal in Eccles, Salford, Greater Manchester, in desperation of catching his next meal.
This isn’t a day out for Stuart, his girlfriend Georgia Twemlow, and John – this is their life, at least for now.
Stuart sits on a disposed sofa by the banks with a fishing rod propped against his leg. Abba is blaring from his stereo, reports Manchester Evening News .
He’s fired up a barbecue and drinks from a bottle of water.
His friend ‘Russian John’ sits by his side. They both look towards the water, hoping for a bite.
All are homeless and Stuart and Georgia say they’ve been turned down for housing and have nowhere else to go.
Last week they were sleeping in a bus shelter, now this canal bank is their home.
The unusual settlement he has made with Georgia and John is now attracting attention from passers-by, but Stuart says people have been mostly supportive.
“I’ve made it my home, until the system changes,” he tells us.
“I chose this spot because it’s in my home town, it’s close to church, and it’s near the doctor’s – although I wasn’t allowed to register because I’ve got no address.
“It’s not near housing so we’re not bothering anyone. It’s all right, hopefully I’ll be able to feed myself and anyone else who needs it. I can totally Ray Mears it.”
Stuart has even planted chilli, garlic, apples turnips and onions in a patch of soil by the canal.
When he needs a wash he jumps into the water with his shower gel.
Friends who do have a home arrive to take a load of washing off him. They bring him food and cigarettes. Having lived here all his life, he’s well known in the area.
One visiting pal tells me: “Stuart’s a good guy, we’ve known him from growing up together on the Winton estate – he’d do anything for anyone.
”It’s sad he’s fallen on hard times and we want to help him out.”
Their camp isn’t going down well with everyone though – a visiting PCSO tells me there have been 14 complaints in two days.
But as the day continues, Stuart, Georgia and John are joined by more companions. Many explain they have mental health issues and they come to pass the time – as well as to draw support from each other’s company.
At night, they will take it turns to keep watch while the others sleep.
Georgia, 28, who suffers with depression, says she just needs a base to get her life back on track – but claims the council isn’t helping her because she’s classed as a ‘single person’.
She says she’s worked in the past but claims her landlord changed her locks to get her out, and without an address, she can’t get a bank account and is struggling to find work.
Faced with difficulties in her family estranged, she doesn’t like to ask friends for help.
Stuart, 35, known by pals as ‘Pottsy’, has led a turbulent life. In the past, he says he’s worked as a cobbler, locksmith, painter and decorator and in factories.
But after suffering a breakdown and losing his family, he was kicked out of his rental property two months ago.
The housing system can often be hard to navigate – although housing bosses generally maintain that temporary housing, in the form of hostel places, is there for everyone who wants it. Stuart, however, insists he’s tried to get help from Salford Council but says he was told that he ‘was not a priority’.
“Look, I’ve got a criminal record,” he explains. “I’ve done some bad things in my life, but it’s all been petty crime. Drugs have been my problem but I don’t take them any more.
“But I’m in this situation for helping a homeless man. I met him in Rochdale and he needed somewhere to stay. I was on benefits, was living in a flat and I let him stay in my lounge. I wanted to give the lad a chance. But the landlord found out and kicked me out. He was a good landlord, he just couldn’t deal with it at the time.
“We were both made homeless. I sofa-surfed for a while, tried to find somewhere new but I couldn’t. Without an address, I can’t get a bank account, it’s the system.”
Forced out of a tent in Manchester city centre and resorting to sleeping in a bus shelter, both say they’ve appealed again to Salford Council for housing.
“They said we aren’t a priority. When will we be? When we’re beaten up, stabbed? They wouldn’t even tell me what their criteria is,” says Stuart.
“It’s just got worse and worse. People end up in prison because it’s the only place they have somewhere to live. The system isn’t working, someone needs to shake it up.
“I’ll keep living here until I get my life back.”
“I want everyone to have a nice home. Everyone says there’s enough fish in the sea – and I know for sure there’s enough land and houses for everyone to live in but there are still people starving while at the supermarkets there are bins brimming with food.”
Stuart looks back at his rod, a maggot dangling from the end of his line. “We caught our first fish last night – a roach. We had it for dinner. We’re dropping bread in and we hope that will attract the little fish.
“And then those little fish will bring in the pike, then we’ll eat. I’ll feed anyone who needs it.
“It’s about playing the long game. The slowest horse wins the race.”
Salford Council has been contacted for comment about Stuart and Georgia’s situation.
They have a sofa and two chairs, a bookcase and a bed to sleep on which they found chucked out by a nearby furniture dealer. They’ve managed to find a carpet to cover the concrete towpath as well as an old tent cover to shelter them from the rain.
With the sun shining as it has done today, it looks like the open air set of a sitcom.
But the grim reality of life outdoors is anything but funny. The fishing rod isn’t just a way of passing the time – it’s to give the group food for their next meal.
Stuart is a 35-year-old dad-of-four. He once had a stable life but has been living on the streets – including a spell in a tent in Manchester city centre – ever since being evicted from his social housing flat.