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BBC Two’s The Debt Saviours: Behind the scenes

calendar27 September 2018

Gemma Pask's avatar Gemma Pask

BBC Two’s The Debt Saviours: Behind the scenes

Watch The Debt Saviours on BBC iPlayer.


On Friday 5 October, CAP is to feature in a BBC Two documentary called The Debt Saviours. It’s a rare and incredible opportunity for any charity – a one hour, prime time slot on national TV. But it’s not something that happens overnight. It’s months of planning, careful risk assessment, discussion, and that’s before the filming and editing process even kicks off.

It all began back in September 2017, when a BBC film maker approached us with plans to create a one hour documentary focusing on the level of destitution in the UK. Keen to meet our staff and hear more about what we do, a crew travelled to Bradford to visit our head office. So inspired, by the time they sat down on the train home they’d decided that they wanted the documentary to take a different angle, focusing on how CAP specifically tackles destitution and poverty.

You can imagine that offer gave us much to chew over. No editorial control, but a chance to let people in on what the amazing Church in the UK is doing. With us as a growing charity hoping to reach both new supporters and those in need, as well as encourage the wider Church, the potential was huge – so we said yes!

We got to know the crew, Phillip and Orlando, as they filmed with us for sixteen weeks between January and June 2018. Naturally, they spent a lot of time with Founder John Kirkby in the hope of getting an insight into the motivation behind what we do.

Serious kudos to John whose life was largely taken over by cameras, filming him during interviews, conferences and fundraising dinners. Of course, John’s own experience of personal debt crisis and how the church came to his rescue become the model for the way we’ve done things for the past 22 years.

Also featured heavily in The Debt Saviours is Gareth Thompson, who was once a debt client and is now our Bradford Central Debt Centre Manager. Gareth’s courage in opening up about his past, and his ability to forgive, provides one of the most emotional parts of the documentary. We’re sure you’ll be equally inspired when you hear his story. Like John, Gareth took part in a lot of filming, all while planning his wedding!

Phillip and Orlando spent a lot of time with us at head office, and also out on the frontline meeting our centre staff and, of course, some of our brilliant clients. Overall the crew spoke to dozens of clients from across England and we were naturally protective of them, as you’d expect. Their Centre Manager spoke to each of them in depth to see if they would mind contact with the film makers before allowing them into their homes. They were only contacted if they were 100% happy to go ahead.

We know from experience that people with debt problems can often feel invisible to society and, on the whole, we found that the clients contacted appreciated being listened to. That said, many of the clients contacted were deemed too vulnerable to feature by both CAP and the BBC, who have a strict duty of care just like we do.

Perhaps the most encouraging takeaway from The Debt Saviours is the attitude of the clients featured. These are people facing incredibly distressing and difficult circumstances and yet, I’m sure you’ll agree, there’s a heart warming positivity about them all.

Their personalities shine through in some wonderful moments, like Ronnie declaring that he’s feeling ‘pukka!’, Holly pocketing the free tea bags or Mick insisting he’ll keep his emotions in check even though his wobbly chin gives him away.

It’s the perfect reflection of the people we help here at CAP and their spirit to keep going, to keep fighting, despite the enormous stress of their circumstances – it’s that ‘nevertheless spirit’ that got CAP going in the first place.

From the start to the end of the documentary, there’s a visible change in the people who have sought help. Through working with CAP, they’re all clearly progressing and their circumstances are looking altogether less hopeless – isn’t that a wonderful message to be sending out on BBC Two in a prime time slot? There IS a way out of debt. There IS always hope. It DOES get better.

We’re glad that the documentary also showed that sometimes clients want to find out more about Christianity too, finding greater perspective and purpose in their lives as well as help with finances.

And it’s all possible because of local churches. Let’s be honest, the UK Church gets a pretty bad rep in the mainstream media, and there’s so much in The Debt Saviours that shouts of the amazing work being done – the life changing work – parish by parish, congregation by congregation. It shows just how underrated the Church is, quietly standing at the forefront of the fight against UK poverty. Through local churches, thousands of CAP clients are finding community, the power of which is rarely shown better than in stories like Holly and Ronnie’s.

There’s no doubt about it, the documentary was always a risk – never before has CAP experienced this level of public scrutiny. But it was a very carefully considered risk, and one that we feel on the whole has paid off. Our prayer is that it reaches people in need and encourages them to seek support. If just one life is radically transformed off the back of it, it’ll be worth it.

A massive thank you to John, Gareth, Holly, Danielle, Mick, Ronnie, Neil, Helen, Phillip, Orlando and everyone else involved in the filming and production of The Debt Saviours.

Read more about CAP on the BBC.

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