Dinnertime differences

A family sit in their caravan.Image copyright
Sian Davey

The definition of a family can range from a traditional household unit to multi-generational living and single parenting.

Sian Davey has travelled the UK showing that there is no “typical” family by photographing people at mealtimes.

One such family are the Chadwicks. Tom, the father of Roo and Peter, was working as an actor in London before he moved to Devon six years ago.

“I’d started to yearn for a more simple life,” Tom says. He bought a caravan and rented out his family home for the summer.

From where the caravan is now parked, it’s a short walk down to the beach. “You wake up, you get breakfast. You go to the beach and learn to surf, then you come home, clean up and think about dinner,” he says.

A man sits at the end of a table.Image copyright
Sian Davey

Chishamiso Mkundi grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe. He studied to be an engineer, married and had two sons.

After Robert Mugabe won the election, the political party that Chishamiso belonged to was outlawed. “My presence in Zimbabwe threatened my family. So I left to claim asylum in the UK,” he says. “My family would join me once I got my refugee status. That was 16 years ago.”

For the first two years of life in Britain, Chishamiso slept on the streets in Southampton. “When you get wet,” he says, “there’s no way of getting dry again.”

He now helps to run the local Oxfam shop and assists other asylum seekers.

His family remain in Zimbabwe.

A young girl is served her dinner.Image copyright
Sian Davey

“I was 18 when I gave birth to Holly,” Rebecca says. “To become a mother at such a young age was a big shock for me. The pregnancy wasn’t planned.”

After she was born, Rebecca was told to sit down. “The specialist said it was highly likely our baby had Down’s syndrome.

“At first I thought the diagnosis would change how I felt towards Holly. It did, but not in the way I expected. I felt this overwhelming feeling of protection towards her.”

Rebecca and Holly live close to Holly’s grandparents, Carol and Stuart. “There’s a lot of love between us,” she says.

An old man laughs around his family.Image copyright
Sian Davey

Jim grew up in Portsdown Hill, overlooking Portsmouth.

He was married to Joyce for 63 years. She died three years ago, and Jim still lives in their home.

Jim now has dementia. Every weekend either his son Richard or his brother drives the 150-mile round trip to stay and care for him, or bring him to stay with the rest of the family in Beckenham, Kent.

“He will burst into song, making up little ditties as he goes along,” Richard says. “He has a smile for everyone and wants to talk to whoever will listen. He has helped form this family and it means everything to us.”

A family talk around their dinner table.Image copyright
Sian Davey

Kate and Iain Morrison have known each other since they were children, and now have two of their own.

They work as crofters, the sustainable farming practice that uses the the Hebridean islands’ salty peat.

“It’s a way of life,” Iain says. “It’s something you’re born with.” But as well as farming, Iain works nights as a nurse at the local hospital.

On sunny days, Kate takes Niall and Amelia and friends down to the private stretch of beach by their croft.

“We are here to nurture Niall and Amelia, to help them grow into the next generation,” Kate says. “They can either go out into the wider world or work the land we have handed over to them.”

A woman serves rice.Image copyright
Sian Davey

“There isn’t a schedule or time for anything really in our home,” Denise says. “It’s usually a case of when it happens it happens, so be grateful.”

Denise is a single mum to four children, ranging from 12 to 23 years old. She works full-time as a teaching assistant, supporting children with special educational needs in Birmingham.

“In the mornings, you have breakfast if you want it, which most of the time results in none of us having breakfast,” she says.

She has taught her children to be honest, open and supportive of each other. Each has their own talent, in music, acting and dance. Her youngest boy, Remar, is on trial with Leicester City FC. “We stick together,” she says. “We’re a unit of individuals.”

A family sit around the dinner table.Image copyright
Sian Davey

After past marriages, Tom and Anna met through friends. “We just had a feeling we were meant to be together,” Tom says.

Billy, their son, was born eight years ago with Down’s syndrome. He has suffered life-threatening seizures throughout his life.

“His smile allows him to get away with a whole lot of mischief,” Anna says.

A small girl looks into the camera.Image copyright
Sian Davey

Christina was born on Uist in the Outer Hebrides and owns a little house in a hamlet near the sea. She was 26 when she had Sebastian. His father was in the military, on the island for training but now mostly absent.

She works as a cashier in the supermarket across the road and then, in the evenings, as a chef at a local hotel. While she works, Sebastian is taken over to his grandmother’s or to stay with friends.

“We always eat breakfast together,” she says. “It tends to be the only time we’re always together.”

“We’re content,” she says. “We’re a real team. We love to be together.”

Sian Davey’s We Are Family exhibition can be seen at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from 21 September to 4 October.

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