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TV review: Council House Britain, Saving Our Ecovillage: Our lives, and Strike: Lethal white

11 September 2020

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MOST viewers would surely be surprised that last week’s most moving feelgood TV programme was (this is, admittedly, my personal judgement) the first episode of the documentary series Council House Britain (Channel 4, Thursday of last week).

Forty per cent of Southwark’s residents are council tenants, and there is a waiting list of more than 10,000. The level of social deprivation and the number of people living with addictions, mental-health problems, and all-encompassing difficulties create a high incidence of squalor and infestation — familiar enough to inner-city clergy, other professionals who actually visit, and neighbours, but shocking to most of our fellow-countrymen.

And yet the production team found some wonderfully committed and impressive case-workers and lettings teams to follow day by day. Keenly aware of how little stock and resources they had to meet the huge needs, they managed to be cheerful, positive, and humorous. There were good-luck stories: Jackie, scuppered by the Universal Credit gap and evicted by her private landlord for rent arrears, was eventually offered her own flat; and another flat, appallingly trashed by an inveterate hoarder, was cleared out, patched up, and redecorated, and is now home to a delighted single mother and her children.

A housing officer joined the parish priest to ensure that the Council gave the hoarder, found dead after years of self-inflicted neglect, a proper and dignified funeral.

The threat of homelessness hung over the subjects of Saving Our Ecovillage: Our lives (BBC1, Wednesday of last week). For 25 years, the 17 residents of Brithdir Mawr, in the Preseli Mountains, have created a self-sufficient community: family groups live in converted farm buildings, and the farmhouse is used for communal activities; but now the lease is up, and, if they cannot raise £1 million, they must leave. Their common rules mean that decision-making takes for ever, but the crisis focuses minds and determination.

Working with a consultant produces a business plan that looks outward rather than inward, that involves, and engages with, the local community, and that finds new and more productive husbandry — and the landlord happily grants them a further five years.

Although they are resolutely pagan, there were echoes of our Lord’s parables, and their transformation could offer a powerful blueprint for any parish that is convinced that the archdeacon is about to pull the plug — although it certainly helps that the community’s average age is about 40 years younger than that of most congregations.

A current Sunday-evening drama on BBC1 adapts Robert Galbraith’s (aka J. K. Rowling’s) Strike: Lethal white. She has fun with classic detective-thriller tropes: the shabby private eye; an amputee veteran who bears a grudge against the Establishment; his gorgeous and plucky higher-class assistant, married to someone else but entirely besotted by the ’tec; the vicious MP’s warring family — you can fill it in yourself. The plot lurches, staggers, and jumps, but, every so often, it hits the spot.

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