Cardboard Citizens: St Albans

Last summer, I was working on a documentary in St Albans about the topic of homelessness. It was a pretty eye-opening experience for reasons I expected, and reasons that would never have come to mind. But my favourite part of the summer-long experience, was meeting the people of Cardboard Citizens.

I documented their work over a two-week period with homeless participants as they worked to build a theatre performance for at the end of that fortnight. None of the participants had experience of performing in front of an audience before, so it was interesting watching Terry and Marc cultivate a team mentality in the room, help them push through the nerves of performing on-stage, and design and build the performance’s story from scratch in that time.

As the days progressed, and I’d drop by for a session, things would’ve progressed rapidly; the story would become fully-formed, some people would drop out for a variety of reasons - both positive and negative - and the nerves would heighten and melt away.

I don’t want to name any participants, because everyone’s story and background was different, they had differing reasons for wanting to be a part of Cardboard Citizens’ project, but everyone wanted to collectively raise awareness of the issue of homelessness in St Albans.

I was aware of how complex the topic of homelessness was from just living in London, but what I learned from this project was the miseducation and the outright lack of education when it came to what someone should do when they find themselves homeless.

Seriously, think about it; where would you go, and what would you do? How do you get off of the streets when you’ve found yourself there?

Cardboard Citizens were a blast to work with for that short period of time, from their members themselves, to the friends I’d made amongst the group of participants - I was truly proud to see them get on that stage in St Albans and perform for the packed audience.

I was sad when the time was up, but I’m glad that it wasn’t the last time I’d work with them. It’s always an education in reality when you take part in a Cardboard Citizens project. It’s not that they’re teaching you a subject from scratch, but they’re holding a lens up to a subject that you didn’t realise had a lot more complexity to it than what you knew already.

Homelessness, and the country’s opinion/reaction to it is real problematic. If we all knew and understood the harsh reality of it, I think we’d be a lot better at combatting it and finding a human solution to it.