A PHOTOGRAPH of a lost loved one, a ticket to a special concert, our child’s first pair of shoes – many of us have material mementoes of times that have powerful emotional significance.

It seems a particularly human response to keep hold of an object or two, for no reason other than the memories and feelings we connect with them. Perhaps they help us feel connected to loved ones who no longer physically present.

Our homes, the places that hold our possessions, are themselves objects with profound emotional significance, as refuges where we can be ourselves, where we can rest and be safe.

Imagine, then, what it must be like to be homeless and to have only those few possessions you can carry with you. Those objects can have enormous importance for the people in our society that have the least. This is the topic explored by homeless people themselves, in a moving and ground-breaking exhibition called The Most Precious Thing I Have In My Possession.

Initiated by Threshold Housing Link, Swindon’s homelessness charity, this is their first interactive photography exhibition.

“This was about providing homeless people with a voice,’ said Threshold fundraising co-ordinator Cai Larkins. “It gives them a chance to talk and communicate, and to open people’s eyes to something different. We wanted the workshop to show you don’t have to be a professional artist to produce something meaningful.”

The objects include a picture of a pregnancy scan, a small torch and a bracelet. One moving picture holds nothing at all – it is a blank white space. This was contributed by a 36-year-old man at a hostel.

He says: “The most precious thing in my life is really nothing.”

He explains that he has been in and out of prison over the years.

“Every time you go to jail, you come outside with nothing,” he explains. “I am trying to build all my sentimental objects back up.”

A 17-year-old girl in the Youth Project explains that the bracelet is important to her because it was a gift from her grandfather at Christmas last year.

“He is no longer with us,” she says. “This bracelet has so many good memories. I do not often wear it but when I do, it gives me some feelings like my grandad is there with me.”

The man who chose the torch as his object explains he sees it as a metaphor for the way his life is moving forward.

Hearing the voices of people telling their own stories gives them real impact and poignancy.

“Many humans have a compelling need to express ourselves – whether that is to write poetry, or create paintings or draw pictures, and we want to share it with others,” explained Michael Keenan, business manager at Threshold. “There is some intense suffering right now in our town.”

The idea for the exhibition began during a photography workshop in June for homeless people in Swindon.

Participants took pictures of their most precious possessions and discussed why these objects were so important to them. This process developed into the interactive exhibition, which has 40 pictures and stories.

Each photograph will have a QR code to allow mobile phone users to hear the person’s story about that piece.

Outreach worker Steve Chamberlain said: “Homeless people want someone to look at them and treat them as human beings – to have a conversation. This exhibition helps others to get a sense of the reasons behind homelessness. People often judge, but now when they see someone in the doorway, perhaps they will see better what homeless people are trying to overcome.”

Negotiations for a town centre venue are being finalised and the exhibition is due to open on November 20. The organisers would be interested to hear from other locations keen to host a pop-up exhibition, and from businesses who would like to have the exhibition online, on their intranet.

“The more venues the better,” said Cai. “They do not have to be big.”

The purpose of the collection is to promote humanity and cultural enrichment, to enliven the town centre at a cold, bleak time of year and to illustrate the preciousness of everything.

To preview the moving stories of some of Swindon’s homeless people, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9oC2Q_jAu4.

Threshold is also looking for corporate sponsors, who would like to be official Threshold Businesses Against Homelessness.

For more information contact Michael Keenan on 01793 524661.