The Roles We Play

The Roles We Play: Recognising the Contribution of People in Poverty is a collection of photographic portraits that explores the roles played by those living in poverty within their families, communities and society at large. The work highlights their efforts, validates their achievements and challenges the negative attitudes often held towards vulnerable and excluded families in the UK.

To accompany the portraits, project participants have written short texts and have taken part in video interviews in order to explain their lives, their hopes and their place in society as seen through their own eyes. From helping neighbours, volunteering in community projects, looking after family members and creating art, the individuals featured in The Roles We Play demonstrate the richness, creativity and altruism in their daily lives. Their stories provide a stirring challenge to stereotypes – frequently pedalled throughout political and media discourse – that individuals and families living in poverty are lazy, self-interested or even dangerous ‘scroungers’.

Our interactive digital campaign invites viewers to reconstruct their understanding of poverty and to draw parallels between their own lives and those of the project participants. Go and have a look on Facebook or Twitter, or use the tag #RolesWePlay and take part!


photo by Eva Sajovic


Kathy – Human Rights Activist

I am a mum and a carer. I love reading books and cooking and, now my sons are older, I have the time to do these things.

When you live in long-term poverty, you have to depend on services that are delivered with suspicion and disdain. They make you feel humiliated. The media and politicians speak about the poor in derogatory ways when they use terms like ‘lazy’, ‘scroungers’, ‘feckless parents’ and ‘underclass’. The stereotyping of all poor people dehumanises them in the eyes of others.

Last year, when times were tough, I went to the church-led food bank when nobody could tell me where the local authority-run one was. I felt wretched and ashamed about going there but they were lovely. The food bank is a countywide church initiative, based in a local community church and café, and also has funding for someone based in the café to give advice on debt, benefits and housing.

I asked if I could do something there because I liked the atmosphere and the people. Despite health issues, I volunteer there when I can. I can’t do much but I help serve the food or do the coffees and teas; others help cook the food and heat it all. It’s a lovely place to get a simple meal.

It’s just a comfortable place to be and people use the cafe as somewhere to sit and wait for the food bank to open so I have been able to have a word with people and offer advice to them. I hope I can use my life experience to give moral support and encouragement along the way. It’s a focal point for a deprived area; I love it.

It’s so peaceful and non-threatening. To mix with other people there and be involved, even if it’s only in a small way, is something for me to look forward to. It gives me a sense of being and has also renewed my interest in cooking.


photo by Eva Sajovic

James – Jack of All Trades

For the last ten years, I’ve been involved in the Skill-Sharing Workshops programme in and around the ATD Fourth World National Centre in London. I have learned so much and taken part in some fantastic maintenance projects, such as the kitchen renovation, extension and rebuild, as well as the attic conversion into bedrooms and a living room-cum-dining area.

I’ve gained skills in painting and decorating, plastering, tiling, basic carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. Hopefully these skills will help me hold on to my new job and provide for myself, my child and my other half.

Being given this chance allowed me to show what I could do, improve my skill set and gain more self-confidence. It means I can take what I have learned back into the community. When my friend Paul moved into his new flat, I helped him paint the walls, fit the carpet and generally clean the place. I also helped a guy from my local rugby club re-decorate his bathroom.

I live in west London and, until recently, was involved with the younger rugby players at the local rugby club. I’ve known most of them since they were babies, so they saw me as a big brother. If they needed anything, I gave them any advice I could. If I couldn’t do that then I sent them to the appropriate body.

I have now taken on coaching the under-18s at another club. Having to coach some fiery tempered young guys, it’s useful to be able to use some humour and some conflict management skills. It makes me feel I’m doing something worthwhile; it’s nice to give something back.

We all bring something to our communities, be we unemployed or someone earning multi-millions. We all have something to give.

When you’re in poverty, it’s important to feel you’re a valued member of the community. If you feel your opinions matter and your voice is important to someone out there, you will constantly grow and evolve.


photo by Eva Sajovic

Moraene – Anti-Poverty Campaigner

I’m a disabled mother of three adult children and I receive benefits. I can’t get employment due to the amount of time I need to attend medical appointments and treatments but I have always been involved in community activities and done voluntary work.

This has varied from face-painting with a local play scheme and reading groups for children who were falling behind in school all the way through to being part of ATD Fourth World.

I try to offer support to others who struggle in life, often connecting them with services that can help them or even just having a listening ear.

I’m very proud of my children. They have overcome so many of the obstacles that poverty has put in their way; they were raised on a very low income on a rough housing estate in east London but were strong enough to stay away from the gangs, drugs and crime that so many young people become entangled in. They’ve always worked, both in employment and as volunteers, as well as sharing the responsibility of being my carers. We may live in a poor borough but it is full of brilliant people.

I was born into poverty, came out of it a bit through not very good but regular work, and fell back into poverty as a young mum when I got divorced. Economically, I’m still in poverty. For me, it’s what I see, it’s what I live and it’s what I fight.

I am of value to my community and to society but I’m invisible to those who do not know me and stigmatised by the headlines they read.

Most of us are really involved with our neighbours, our families and our communities at some level or other. People may look at a single mum and judge her on her situation but they don’t know who she babysits for, the neighbour she does the shopping for or that she helps out at her child’s nursery. They don’t know what her life is and yet they judge her. Instead, celebrate our strengths, our resilience, the things that people in poverty contribute, the fight we have for our children and the fight we have for each other

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