Students inspired by “hard-hitting” documentary on homelessness

TWO STUDENTS from Coventry University have used their final year journalism project to “break down the perceptions society holds towards homeless people” in the city of Coventry. Much of Sophie Polydorou and Attiq Sadiq’s work has focussed on the Foyer which opened its doors in late 2001 on Lower Holyhead Road.   

The front cover of the first 'Foyer 4 U' newsletter to be distributed in June

Working in conjunction with the Foyer Federation, 21-year-old Polydorou and 22-year-old Sadiq will write and design two separate newsletters with the aim of “showcasing residents in a positive light”.  As well as the two edition newsletter entitled ‘Foyer 4 U’, they will also script and record a one-off radio documentary.  

The audio piece will feature a number of interviewees to discuss the current economic downturn and how this is impacting on the level of homelessness, and whether the government has set itself a realistic target of eliminating homelessness by 2012. 

According to Communities and Local Government Housing statistics, the number of homeless people in England has been more than halved since 1991 to just over 63,000 in 2008.  However, figures for homelessness in the West Midlands region are the highest of any other, second only to London.

Both students are hoping their project will provide an accurate and insightful account of the work that takes place in the Foyer – a venture where all costs incurred – such as printing – will be paid in its entirety by them, though this has done little to discourage them.   

 “We always wanted to find out what the Foyer’s function in Coventry was,” said Sadiq.  “We settled on the issue of homelessness as we considered it to be a big problem in the city, especially in and around Spon Street which is where I live.”

The biggest influence to arise from their research was a documentary broadcast on the BBC in 2007 called ‘Evicted’.  The programme narrated the “hard-hitting” experiences of those families being ejected from their homes.  “It stated the facts of homelessness in the UK to viewers,” Sadiq added. 

“The first hand depictions of these families impacted on us greatly which is why we decided to adopt a similar style for our radio documentary.  We remain hopeful that it will be broadcast on a local radio station, but at present we are unsure of when that will be.”

The ‘Foyer 4 U’ newsletters will be distributed to different businesses across the city and Coventry University’s campus, and although much of the coverage is positive, Polydorou maintains that they have not shied away from the pressing issues currently facing the homeless.    

We settled on the issue of homelessness as we considered it to be a big problem in the city, especially in and around Spon Street which is where I live…

As expected, Polydorou and Sadiq have been confronted with a number of untimely challenges, in particular the local city council who refused to give an interview.  They have instead spoken to representatives from a number of volunteer programmes, including Barclays Money, the UK based charity, Salvation Army, and those organisations working with the Foyer directly. 

The biggest challenge, however, was sitting down with the homeless and encouraging them to share their story, as Polydorou explained: “When we spoke to the Foyer’s residents, most have been reluctant to talk and that’s understandable, but some have been really open about their lives.

“Even so, we didn’t want to exploit what they have had to say and make them feel uncomfortable. We therefore considered it important to sit down with the residents and explain to them what we will be writing and gain their permission before publishing the newsletters.”

The first of the two editions of the ‘Foyer 4 U’ newsletter will be distributed in June with the second available from the first week in July. 

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