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Waterloo Road: Danny’s story shines a light on youth homelessness

Waterloo Road star Adam Abbou took on the responsibility of tackling homelessness on screen, while playing troubled student Danny Lewis

Some TV stands the test of time – and Waterloo Road has proved itself to be one of those shows. In 2021, as we isolated in uncertain and increasingly precarious times while the pandemic raged, many of us turned to familiar comforts. This, in part, explains the viewing figures for Waterloo Road. Although it ended in 2015, six years on it became iPlayer’s fourth most watched series of the year. In addition, new audiences were tuning in for the first time, demonstrating the cross-generational appeal of the schoolyard-based TV drama.  

Come 2023, the series is back on our TV screens in the form of a reboot for old and new audiences alike. With a cast made up of familiar (Katie Griffiths, Angela Griffin and Adam Thomas reprise their roles) and fresh faces, there’s a palpable buzz around the possibilities ahead.  

“I would say the reboot is very new and relevant to the issues that we have today. But it also has that old Waterloo Road charm that everybody loves,” Liverpool-born actor Adam Abbou tells The Big Issue. Abbou portrays new character Danny Lewis, a troubled Year 12 student who returns to Greater Manchester based secondary school, Waterloo High, after leaving two years prior during lockdown.  

A character with nuance and complexity, Danny is brought to life through Abbou’s rousing portrayal, in what is the actor’s first recurring TV role (Abbou’s acting debut came at just 12, when he was cast as the lead in Billy Elliot the Musical).    

“Danny is a kid who fell under the radar during the Covid lockdown, which is not a far cry from what a lot of people here in the UK dealt with. He has a lot of family issues, doesn’t come from a lot of money, and doesn’t always have the proper support that he needs,” explains Abbou.  

Indeed, in our first introduction to the character we see a frantic Danny being chased through the school halls. When he’s eventually caught, it is revealed that he has been taking refuge in his former school after finding himself homeless, following a family breakdown in the midst of the pandemic.  

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This is a culmination of a series of unfortunate and interlinking events – his grandmother dying; dropping out of school. The new series follows Danny as he struggles to rebuild his life while avoiding past demons. It’s not always a linear journey, and at times Danny makes missteps. Abbou’s skilful portrayal draws out Danny’s vulnerability, reminding us he’s just a kid coping with adult situations and a system stacked against him. He is also a reminder that many others in the UK today are faced with similar situations. 

Youth homelessness is an increasingly big issue. Its true extent is often hidden or obscured. The charity Centrepoint, which supports young people experiencing homelessness, estimates that in 2021, 121,000 young people reached out for support – a staggering rise of 40 per cent compared with the five years preceding. Danny may be fictional, but his storyline reflects the reality of many young people today – the varied devastating impacts of the pandemic were cited as a major driving force behind the increase.  

Angela Griffin in Waterloo Road
Angela Griffin (centre) is back as Kim Campbell in the series. Image: BBC

Violence, abuse, family breakdown, mental health issues and destitution are just some of the underlying risk factors for youth homelessness. This figure doesn’t even account for potentially thousands more young people sleeping on sofas, floors or staying at friends’ places, who may not have formally reached out for help. 

Minority communities are disproportionately impacted by youth homelessness: previous analysis of government data by The Guardian has shown that though England’s Black population stood at roughly 3.5 per cent in 2021, Black households made up 10 per cent of those that were homeless or at risk of homelessness.  

Shining a light on youth homelessness is a big responsibility, and it is one that Abbou took seriously and with empathy in Waterloo Road. “I never wanted to come across as insensitive to a topic that I didn’t know much about when I originally auditioned for the role,” Abbou explains. “I thought it was important to research; to have the background knowledge in what I was working with.” 

Abbou insists how it was important to him to both read up on the subject and, crucially, speak directly with those on the front line of supporting young people experiencing homelessness. “Being an actor gives you such an amazing platform. If you can’t talk about topics and issues that are happening in the world then what can you talk about, really?” he says. 

“Playing Danny is such a whirlwind of emotion every single day. He’s a great guy, he just doesn’t have the best of luck. I hope people fall in love with him and feel for the issues that he’s faced with.”  

The new series of Waterloo Road is available on iPlayer now with weekly episodes on Tuesdays on BBC One 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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