With any documentary project you are only ever seeing the edited results. You are also not seeing those who felt they couldn’t take part in the process. Within the first day of researching the project I’d found four families who agreed to take part. Whilst I spent six months trying to raise funds, two of those families drifted away from the project and one disintegrated.
I met Tia at the St John’s drop-in. Tia is a single mum with two lovely kids, she suffers from anxiety and depression and wanted to join the project so that people could see how destitution could be hidden behind carefully chosen second hand clothing, prudent shopping and accepting charity. Tia did not know how she was going to cope once her ESA was going to be cut.
Tia’s friend Grace also has two kids. With just her partner working (full-time), they struggled to eat, she said the foodbank would turn people like her away, you had to be a ‘certain level of desperate’ to get help. She now also works but feels, ‘people on the street look at you, here in the church everyone’s equal’. Like Tia, her kids’ clothes are all mostly secondhand, ‘I can’t afford Clarks shoes, or all of their uniforms’. I explained how David Cameron’s linguistic pedantry around terms of poverty gave the project its title – Relative Poverty, her eyes rolled, ‘poverty is poverty, we shouldn’t live in a country where people take drugs because there’s nothing else’. She added, ‘tablets keep me chipper, I had a bit of breakdown, it got to the point where, I thought I could ring Tia to look after the kids, and then go the toilet and not come back…’
Rachel said that, ‘if I can tell people I’ve used a foodbank three times, I can be a part of this’. With a history of mental health issues in her family Rachel wanted to make something affirmative about the difficulties she and her two daughters faced, the system caused her distress, people should know ‘what I have to go through to get this money…’
For a year I’ve also been looking to persuade Nigel to take part. He’s the same age as me and we often talked about how (to me) he seemed to encapsulate the history of post-industrial Doncaster in a person. His family had been filmed having their Christmas dinner during the Miners’ Strike for a Scandinavian documentary. His mum had been very active in the women’s groups that blossomed at that time. After delivering coal for a while after leaving school he went down the pit till it closed, and, ‘its been downhill since then’. Years of substance misuse and homelessness have taken their toll on his health and his estranged family. He said the worst part of living rough is waking up covered in snow, ‘and sometimes you don’t want to wake up at all’.
I also met Vincent who couldn’t face taking part. A middle aged motor mechanic who gave up work (he now feels left behind by computerised engine technology) to look after his mum, he’s been living on what his dad can spare from his pension for a number of years. Vincent felt he was too anxious to take part, despite having nothing to lose. Currently receiving no benefits and with no income he is as close to invisible as you could find. He asked that I record nothing, but two quotes from him stick in my mind;
‘when you’re unemployed, its like you’re a shadow’
‘I’m like those red traffic cones that spring back up when they get squashed, you know like the song, I get knocked down… they spring back up. But then they get a crease in them…’