The Tab talks to Bea Goddard

Director of student-led documentary ‘Their Story’


'Their story' is a new, student-led documentary about the vulnerably housed in Cambridge. The team behind the documentary speak to homeless people in Cambridge, as well as those living and working in local shelters.

What inspired you to make this documentary?

I had two major inspirations. First, me and my friends would often end up chatting to people who lived on the streets at the end of nights out. When we were doing something fun and hedonistic, it just felt like a very freaky juxtaposition. And you can’t go anywhere in Cambridge without seeing people who live on the streets or work on the streets.

So I got in touch with Barry at Jimmy’s and mentioned to him what I was thinking about, and he said that I could come in and chat to him about it. We spoke about the ethics of the whole thing, and the best way to support the people we were interviewing more directly than just the hopefully positive impact of the film.

My other inspiration was the Varsity film last year about the wealth gap in Cambridge. It was obviously a great film. Joe and Abdullah are both great people.

But I was watching it and thinking that there’s a gap in this conversation to be had about the people who live and work on the streets, or who are vulnerably housed.

Was there anything in your discussions that surprised you in the process of filming?

What surprised me was the major differences in people’s responses to being asked whether we could go and chat to them. That was obviously caused by a lot of different things.

Some people we interviewed on camera. But others were happy talking to us, and happy with photography and notes, but were not happy about video specifically. A lot of it was to do with pride and the stigma, which is obviously a major thing and this is a part of trying to break that down.

But I think other things that surprised me was how the film unpacked my own stereotypes and stigma that we’ve all internalised. There’s a brilliant quote from someone in it called Shem – I’ll probably misquote this- but he says that no matter how hard you try, you can never fully understand someone else’s experience.

And I very much agree with him on that. I was surprised how many women there were, and how many young people too. People who’d been to university, and had these quite secure feeling careers, and I think the reality really hit me.

I mean, I was aware of how easy it is to end up in a vulnerably housed or rough sleeping situation, but hearing the stories of those people just reinforced how easily that could happen to anyone.

Has it changed the way you see Cambridge, rough sleepers or the vulnerably housed?

Definitely both. It has changed the way I notice things. I feel like I’m constantly on high alert. And when I’m out of Cambridge, I feel a greater urge to go and chat to them. I feel much less anxious about those kind of situations now.

One of the interviewees- who wanted to be anonymous- was saying that he really backed our project because he feels that that is the only way you can even start to comprehend the issue. To come out and interact with people.

How do you think the issue of homelessness is being tackled in Cambridge and is it working effectively, and how could it be improved

I found that a lot of people actually come to Cambridge when they're in a difficult situation because Cambridge kind of has a reputation for having a lot of shelters, a lot of provisions, and places like Emmaus, Jimmy’s, Chop and Winter Comfort.

It’s also a very wealthy areas in certain places. It’s kind of considered a good place to work on the streets.

However, if you take into account the proposed closure of Whitworth House, the local council and organising bodies are doing a shit job, because that’s the only women’s shelter in Cambridge.

Whilst we were working on the project, we didn’t get to talk to many LGBT identifying people who work on the streets, so I’m not sure about that, but I think that there is a national issue with especially trans people who are vulnerably housed or live on the streets. Because they can’t go to women’s shelters and they can’t go to men’s shelters whichever way. There definitely needs to be more provisions for LGBT people from the research that I’ve done subsequenty from making the film.

One last question. What are you hoping to achieve with the documentary?

We’re obviously not going to change everyone’s mind. We’re not going to completely change the lives of people who live and work on the streets. But if we can be part of that conversation and part of the process of breaking down the stigma, and if just three people came up to me and said, 'because of your film I’ve had the confidence to go up to people' or 'I was able to donate to Jimmy’s or Whitworth house', that would be phenomenal.

I’m very aware that this film is not revolutionary, it’s not brand new, but it’s part of a wider conversation. The more of this content, the better, because it means it’s more likely that people are going to see it.

'Their Story' launched at 3pm, Thursday 20th June. It will be shown in the Yusuf Hamied Theatre, Christ’s College, Cambridge.

The launch event was hosted by the Director and was followed by a panel discussion with representatives from Jimmy’s Cambridge, Emmaus, Cambridge Homeless Outreach Programme (CHOP), Whitworth House, and more.