How 60 Days On The Streets gives rough sleepers a voice
13th March 2019
Our hard-hitting series puts to bed the myths surrounding homelessness, says Jamie Seal
There aren’t many issues that reflect the state of modern-day Britain more than our current homelessness crisis. I don’t think anyone in the country can walk down the street without noticing the shocking number of people sleeping rough.
So when Boundless approached me about co-producing a three-part series for Channel 4 with Motion Content Group, exploring the exponential rise in homelessness around the UK, I knew this was an important and timely piece of television.
But what made this project even more ambitious, enticing and, admittedly, complicated was its central premise: seasoned adventurer and ex-army captain Ed Stafford would spend 60 days sleeping rough over the winter months, in three major cities around the UK.
“Adding the extra element of an embedded presenter to the mix brought a unique set of challenges I hadn’t previously experienced”
From previous experience, I came onto the project fully aware of the complexities involved in making films about homelessness. But adding an embedded presenter to the mix brought a unique set of challenges I hadn’t previously experienced.
The first consideration was health and safety. Ed was genuinely living on the streets for the full 60 days, so we had to find a way to mitigate potential risks to his wellbeing.
This was a concern right from the offset – particularly when you consider the fact that violence towards rough sleepers, often from members of the public, is an all too regular occurrence.
To ensure Ed’s safety, we employed a security team to provide discreet 24/7 surveillance. Their function was to provide a rapid response in the event of violent threats, and there were plenty of sketchy moments, particularly in Manchester.
The round-the-clock nature of the production also required a constant editorial presence on the ground. This meant staffing the series to ensure our cameras could react whenever key editorial moments occurred.
I was responsible for overseeing a large team, with the unequivocal support of two very experienced executive producers – Ben Mitchell and Rod Williams – and a first-class production manager, Anna Gordon. As a team, we were tasked with giving a voice to homeless people in London, Manchester and Glasgow, many of whom had complex needs.
With the series focusing primarily on rough sleeping, we didn’t have the luxury of institutional access to fall back on. Therefore, creating trusting relationships on the streets was paramount to the success of the storytelling. While this was often challenging and time-consuming, without the trust of the homeless community, we wouldn’t have a series.
Making any series about homelessness is tough, but filming with rough sleepers, at the sharpest end of the issue, was often a chaotic and hair-raising experience. Our team were on the streets day and night, managing sensitive access while surrounded by drug-taking, theft and violence.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that there were several complicated legal scenarios to deal with over the course of production and we lost the odd story as a result.
But the key benefit of a longer schedule is that you’re afforded more time: more time to find the right contributors, more time to build trust, and more time to excavate people’s stories and to give a more balanced portrayal of their lives.
While this was one of the most complicated series I have ever been involved in, it was definitely worth the risk – 60 Days On The Streets is a provocative, original and truly surprising series.
It will challenge opinions and subvert untruths about homelessness, while also painting a true picture about the realities faced by so many vulnerable people around the UK.