It’s never too late for good news

In 2010 I made Getting By, a documentary about poverty in Britain.  At that time one fifth of the country’s 61 million people lived in poverty.   When I was asked to make the film by the Media Trust for the Community Channel I had no idea how big the issue was.  The statistics amazed me but in the course of making the film I learnt just how thin the breadline is and how easy it is to fall the wrong side of it.  I followed the stories of 4 people who had fallen into poverty for very different reasons – a cancer patient, a separated father, a terminally ill student and a pensioner.

Margaret Kelly from Londonderry, Northern Ireland was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2009.  One of the little known and under discussed effects of cancer is poverty.    As a result of her illness, Margaret lost her job as a nurse, her husband left her she had to survive on £60 a week.  During a bitter winter she was forced to choose between buying food or heating her home.  She chose to eat and as a result, while she was undergoing treatment and at her lowest point, she was without any heating at all.  The situation became so hard to bear that she was on the verge of taking an overdose.

Winter in Londonderry











Luckily, Margaret admitted the extent of her suffering to friends and family who helped her through.   She went on to campaign for fuel payments with a dynamic group of fellow breast cancer survivors, the Pink Ladies.    They lobbied strongly and took their campaign for a winter fuel payment for cancer patients to Stormont in October 2011.

Knowing Margaret’s energy and enthusiasm then, if all the Pink Ladies are like her, there is no way the politicians stood a chance.  Indeed, only 2 months later the Pink Ladies were successful.  The Stormont Executive announced that cancer patients, together with other people on benefits, would receive a winter fuel payment to ensure they could warm.  This applied to 250,000 people across Northern Ireland, including 22,000 people in Derry.

One of the things that makes me even happier about this news is that the Pink Ladies showed Getting By to MPs to support their cause. You can see a bit of it, and Margaret, on my website….

As a documentary maker you can never expect to change the world overnight.  But news like this gives me hope that people can have an influence on government policy and that sometimes a film can help them to affect a much needed change.

Pink Ladies celebrating