Huge legacy of reality television programme at Norfolk Convent

The nuns who opened their doors to a camera crew for the making of the recent reality television programme ‘Bad Habits, Holy Orders’ say they’ve been overwhelmed by the response of viewers both in the UK and internationally. Speaking from her Convent in rural Norfolk, eighty-five year old Sister Thomas More said the Sisters have been inundated with letters and emails – all positive - and that some people have come back to Church after viewing the show. 

The programme makers brought a group of hedonistic young women  to live with the Daughters of Divine Charity and filmed them over the course of several weeks to see their reaction to being denied their usual lifestyle of partying, alcohol and social media. Sister Thomas More admits it was the first time a lot of the sisters had had such an encounter: “These girls have had an excess of drinking, of money. Some of them had the wrong goals in life. It was quite a shock to them when they arrived in the Convent!”

Sister Thomas More, who recently celebrated her diamond jubilee of religious life,  said that when the Convent was first approached about allowing the cameras in she wasn’t at all sure it was a good idea: “I was worried. The younger sisters were more enthusiastic. But we talked it through and decided to go for it. It wasn’t particularly easy having the cameras around us morning noon and night. They weren’t inside our enclosure but they were in the Chapel and the common room.”  The crew and producers even lived in the Convent for the duration of filming.   “There were remarks about the lack of mirrors in the bedrooms!” she laughs. 

That the programme impacted for the better on the lives of the young women is undeniable. “The experience led them to look at themselves and what they were doing. Not just their drinking. They’ve also come to see that there’s more to life.”  Several have been reconciled with family members they’d fallen out with and the Sisters were delighted that a couple of them came back to the Convent to speak at a recent youth gathering.

The bond has been maintained, with one of the younger Sisters keeping in touch with the young women on Facebook. Sister Thomas More can’t hide her delight that the programme has led to the sisters expanding their ministry as well as their public profile. For instance some of them were recently invited to be involved in the running of an auction in aid of homeless young people. They’ve also spoken at a school in London on vocation and an invitation has just come in to speak in the Netherlands.

“In addition, we recently held a Convent open day.  Forty-five local people came to see where the programme was filmed. Former pupils from our school have also reconnected and we were particularly touched that the parents of one of the young women who participated in the programme came to thank us for the impact it has had on her.”

The documentary is reported to be the first time in a decade in which programme-makers have been allowed to film inside a Catholic Convent in England and Wales.  So has the experience of the filming been meaningful? “I would say so, yes. I never heard any of the visitors swearing. They respected us – which was lovely – you might not have expected to get that. We got quite fond of them and I think they got quite fond of us.”