What couldn't you live without?

If poverty was pulling you under and you faced losing everything, what one thing could you not live without? Joy Pocock, who features in JRF’s Picture Britain exhibition, has given this question some serious thought.

For JRF’s Picture Britain exhibition, which reflects the experiences of people swept into poverty, photographer Jillian Edelstein and writer Stephen Armstrong met people around the UK and asked them what one thing they couldn’t live without.

In Leeds, they met 36-year-old Joy Pocock. Joy grew up in difficult circumstances, and after losing everything in London, she came back home to Leeds, started to rebuild her life, and launched crochet pattern site Betty Virago. She runs craft workshops and runs the Quilts of Hope project.

At first, Joy told Jillian and Stephen that the one thing she couldn’t live without was knitting, but she had a change of heart – and here she explains why.

I’ve lived without a ‘home’, I’ve survived with no money...

My first response was knitting, but I could live without that. I'd just move on to crochet or weaving or pottery or watercolouring.

Practically I should say something like somewhere to live, but I've lived without a 'home', I've survived with no money, I got through a short time with no food and I've managed when my electricity and heating ran out, I've even spent times without friends.

I think the question itself is the problem.

What one thing would it be so devastating for me to lose that it would make my life seem so meaningless that it's preferable to end it?

I'm thinking you want a short answer and you want me to say something short like family. Well you shouldn't have given me a whole blank piece of paper if you only wanted a short answer.

I think therefore, hope is the one thing that stops me from saying my life is meaningless enough to end it.

At my very worst... hang on, I have a photo...

I have an annoying ability to not give up!

I have an annoying ability to not give up! Annoying because there's been times when I've wanted to give up on life. I've had moments when my gas has run out and I've gone to bed in the middle of the day because bed is the place I can keep warm.

The first few moments when a crisis hits, my first thought is to end everything and cry that I can't do this, that I can't take much more, then I stop crying and get on with it. That's annoying!

I've spent the last two weeks living with my 79-year-old mum because my 90-year-old dad is in hospital. I spent two days at dad's bedside thinking this was the end of his life. He's my hero as well as my dad. My dad raised us to not look down on anyone despite their circumstances. Even when we thought he was hours from dying he was telling us all that he worried about the growing number of homeless people and telling us that no man is beyond hope.

And I think hope is what has kept me going.

Hope that someone would give a homeless girl a chance, that some church family would take me in, that some employer would give me a job and another person would give me an affordable place to rent. That when I finally came home to Leeds my parents would still be there. The hope that despite no qualifications a university would accept me when all I had to show was a Tupperware box of things I've made.

OK another photo...

I see her make something she didn’t think possible.

Hope is what I use when a woman comes to one of my workshops with no confidence from years of being told she's crap and I see her make something she didn't think possible. And even though to others she's just made a useless woollen decoration, to her, she has sparked a little flame that says she can do anything and who knows what she'll do next, because hope doesn't end with a woollen decoration; it moves on to the next thing you think is impossible but attempt anyway. Hopefully I'll get a place on the MA course! [Joy is planning on getting an MA in art psychotherapy so she can further help women through crafts.]

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now (but I'm available for motivational events, hahaha!). If you really wanted one word then the thing I could not have lived without is HOPE.

  • Find out more about Betty Virago and Quilts of Hope.
  • Joy’s story is part of Picture Britain, a new exhibition featuring unseen photography by Jillian Edelstein, with personal stories captured by Stephen Armstrong. It runs from 20 February to 8 March at Borough Market, London. Admission is free. A UK tour will follow at a later date.

Jillian Edelstein's photos of Joy and her craft equipment, as seen in JRF's Picture Britain exhibition.