Tough Luck!

11th May 2001 at 01:00
Michelle is a modern-day Cinderella, forced to wash dishes and wait on the other children by her step-mother. Her own mother doesn't want her around ("Trust you to get yourself a toyboy," says Michelle, witheringly) and after a wide-ranging row, Michelle runs away. Now homeless, she gets pneumonia, is refused benefits, and prostitution looks briefly like her only option. Her story is one of several in a video called Tough Luck! (see picture, above), a moving and engaging drama designed to get teenagers - and their teachers and parents - thinking about homelessness.

Family conflict is the single most common reason for young people leaving home prematurely. But the teenagers moving from pillar to post in Tough Luck! have an added dimension to their homelessness - they are all from rural areas, where accommodation and services can be particularly hard to come by. In the film, Michelle, Tom - who runs away after being beaten up by his drunken father, and Jamie - whose relationship with his foster family has broken down - spend a night in a barn before hitch-hiking to the nearest town. There they fall foul of the benefits restrictions that apply to under-18-year-olds nationally and the shortage of hostel places, advice and affordable shared accommodation which is more pronounced in the provinces.

The drama was devised by 16 and 17-year-old BTEC students from Cirencester College, who did their own research in the Gloucestershire area. It uses a game show format to highlight the chancy nature of the outcome of leaving home for vulnerable young people. The narrative is concise and well-paced and conveys the practical as well as emotional truths of youth homelessness. According to a study by Dr Joan Smith (see main story), Tough Luck! reflects all too accurately the real situation in rural England. More than 30 of the 60 young homeless people she and her team interviewed had been involved in physically violent arguments at home before leaving; one in four was excluded from school and most were fom the local area. The resources pack on rural youth homelessness is produced by long-standing charitable production company, View to Learning (VTL), and aims to alert young people to the dangers of homelessness. As well as the video drama Tough Luck!, it contains a documentary on how the students researched and devised the drama plus notes and lessons plans for use in drama, English, PSE and citizenship classes.

"I felt that drama would be an effective way to address the problem," says writer and film-maker Jane Henriques of VTL. "The making of films can politicise people and the products are useful for stimulating discussion and helping people understand issues."

Trialled in 10 schools, the pack has gone down well with pupils. Rory, 14 was engrossed. He says: "We've been taught this kind of stuff in a terribly patronising way all our lives. But this wasn't patronising at all."

Lee, 15, says: "Before, they were strange people asking for change. Now I see them more like unfortunate people needing a cup of coffee."

The pack contains the script for the drama, which was performed as a play to Year 10 pupils at Cirencester Kingshill comprehensive. "In a town our size, the children all know someone who's homeless or on the verge of it, because of family life," says deputy head Steve Colledge. "It helps bring these things out in the open, and it certainly triggered discussion."

The teaching pack contains a section on working with parents, because they too need alerting to the consequences of showing children the door, says Jane Henriques. "If they understood that children will lose education, get into drugs and alcohol, become ill, depressed, perhaps suicidal - maybe they would start to push for conciliation services to help them deal with adolescents."

Tough Luck! costs pound;56 + pound;5 pamp;p from View to Learning, The Old Forge, Winson, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 5EN.Tel: 01285 720579. Email: Website:

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