By : Dr. Sue Sudbury, Principal Academic and Global Engagement Lead, Bournemouth University
“You can’t say it’s your own fault if you’ve had to change benefits for some reason. You can say it’s our fault if we went out and had blown it in the bookies or in the pubs, then yeah, it would be our own fault. Most people just can’t afford to pay rent and buy food.”
This is the voice of one of the contributors in my film, Hunger by the Sea, an animation, just under four minutes long about food banks in an English seaside town. Using animation and voice over, it presents the human voice of food bank users. “You can’t say it’s your own fault if you’ve had to change benefits for some reason. You can say it’s our fault if we went out and had blown it in the bookies or in the pubs, then yeah, it would be our own fault. Most people just can’t afford to pay rent and buy food.”
I am a documentary filmmaker and academic at Bournemouth University and I was shocked by Ken Loach’s film, I, Daniel Blake and wanted to find out if food bank scenes like this were really happening in Britain today or only in the realm of fiction. Hunger by the Sea was funded by Bournemouth University’s Student Research Assistant scheme in which students are paid to carry out research and work alongside academics.
My initial plan was to give people, who use food banks, cameras where they became first-person story tellers so they could speak directly to policy makers and politicians. However, after my Bournemouth University student researcher, Charlie Mott, spent several weeks volunteering in three local food banks it became clear that people are ashamed to admit they resort to food banks. They felt it was their fault: they did not want to be visible.
So I re-defined the project as an animation in which people could speak anonymously and took on another co-researcher, Xue Han, a Bournemouth University animation student. Even with this new plan it took approaches to 14 different food banks before finding one that was prepared to let us record people’s voices. It so happened that it is situated by the sea and its location provides strong images to accompany the people struggling to keep their ‘heads above water’.
Food bank managers confirmed that scenes like the one in I, Daniel Blake occur with shocking regularity.
“We often have situations where perhaps the mothers haven’t eaten for days just so they can feed the children” said the food bank Manager.
Tragically, the people who speak in the film were not hard to find and all have their own desperate stories.
“This food bank is a lifeline for us. We haven’t had a meal for two weeks.” Another couple said that “everything is going up and all our money goes on bills”.
As for the man with the brain tumour, he was “devastated” that it has come to this after paying his own way all his life.
Hopefully these voices will be heard far and wide and policy makers will realise that there are real human beings behind the statistics.
Hunger by the Sea, was shortlisted for the Innovation Award at the Arts and Humanities Research in Film Awards 2017, which recognise films inspired by original research.