Our House is a South African reality television competition created and directed by Chris Roland and produced by ZenHQ and Binary Film Works in which eight families of the Cape Town squatter camp Freedom Park compete to win two fully-furnished homes.
Supported by Irish volunteers and Cape Town City Mayor Helen Zille, the show also documents the building of 200 houses in a week in Freedom Park.
Our House premiered on SABC2 on Friday 29 August 2008, at 14h30. There are 13 half-hour episodes in the first season (including commercials).
Our House revolves around the building of 200 houses in 7 days. The 13 episodes also had to be shot during this short window, a daunting task the producers emphasize required comprehensive planning.
Four teams consisting of Irish volunteers and Freedom Park families were formed. The four teams competed to build eight of the 200 houses, which the eight families would eventually move into.
Two winning families walk away with furnished and equipped homes, and an unexpected surprise was announced on the last day, which the producers are keeping hush-hush.
In each episode the teams compete against each other, and the clock, and are judged on four challenges – speed, skill, aesthetics, and management.
In addition, a creative and environmental challenge needs to be completed over the 7 days. Each of the challenges earns points, and the team with the most points at the end of the 7 days walks away with two furnished and equipped houses.
The high spirits on the first day are met almost immediately with obstacles, and the reality of the team's difficult task together starts to set in.
Emotional highs run from elation and camaraderie to frustration, angry outbursts and emotional meltdowns.
A two minute mini-documentary is included in each episode highlighting one of the families. The families were given cameras to take home at night, and were free to shoot whatever they wanted.
The series presenters are Vanessa Jansen and building expert Riaan Venter. Jansen is best known for the SABC series All You Need Is Love, and Venter is the host of the SABC2 series DIY met Riaan.
In November 2007 the Western Cape saw the quick arrival and departure of 1,350 Irish volunteers as they descended on Freedom Park in Mitchell's Plain to build 200 houses for shack-dwellers in 7 days.
Four chartered airbuses transported the volunteers from Ireland to South Africa, making it the second largest foreign volunteer mission in history.
The “Building Blitz” as it is called by the Niall Mellon Township Trust (NMTT), is an annual event started by Irish businessman and philanthropist Niall Mellon.
The blitz began in 2002 when Mellon and several friends informally built 25 houses in Imizamo Yethu. The event became a charity, and the charity is now the largest builder of charity housing in South Africa.
Seeing an opportunity to positively expose the housing crisis in South Africa in a creative platform, Cape Town producer Chris Roland (Stander, Hotel Rwanda, Charlie Jade) pitched a reality TV series concept to the trust with the help of Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille.
“The idea sprang out of a casual lunch conversation,” says Zille, who championed the project. “Through cooperation it has evolved into a unique opportunity to combine social responsibility and entertainment where everyone benefits. This kind of thinking-outside-the-box approach is how we will end the housing crisis.
"I would like to see a second series, and we are working with Chris and his team developing the Our House Initiative, where volunteers from five countries will build 500 additional houses."
The 13-part series is a co-production between Roland's company ZenHQ and Johannesburg based Binary Film Works (BFW), owned by Cecil Matlou and Pieter Lombaard. Roland enlisted BFW as part of a training initiative.
ZenHQ made BFW a fifty percent owner of the series worldwide.
With the co-production in place, the team raised production financing through sponsorship from the Development Bank of Southern Africa and Game.
The Our House theme song is U2's Beautiful Day. After securing the international rights to the track from the band, the producers later learned it was the first time U2 has lent one of its songs to a TV series.
Original music in the series was composed by Grenville Williams, best known as a member of the South African hip hop band Godessa.
Freedom Park began in 1996 as an informal settlement in the Cape Flats, sandwiched on an empty field between the Hard Livings gang on the one side and the Americans gang on the other.
The settlement quickly grew, but in 1999 the squatters were ordered to vacate the land, and the bulldozers were sent in. The families united, and for two weeks formed a human chain around the land, preventing the bulldozers from destroying the only homes they had.
The squatters won their freedom.
They petitioned the city for proper homes and facilities. With their needs heard, Freedom Park was finally approved for development, and the families became active participants in how their new community would be planned and built.
Ten years later, the building of 493 homes began.
Four teams consisting of family members and Irish volunteers were selected for the series.
A total of 24 families were interviewed, out of which 8 families were selected. Two members from each family were chosen to participate in the show.
The 12 Irish volunteers selected for the show were chosen after several days of casting in Ireland. All 12 volunteers had already signed up for the Building Blitz.
Like all 1,350 volunteers, the Our House volunteers donated 4,000 Euros each towards the building of the houses. The 12 volunteers unanimously agreed that the reason they wanted to be selected was because they would be working with the families.
The families and volunteers come from very diverse backgrounds, ranging from a school teacher and a part time labourer to a top model and a radio DJ.
It is the first of seven days to build 200 houses. The four Our House teams start building their 8 houses in high spirits, but obstacles are already starting to hamper progress.
The blue team's management problems from day one catch up with them. They are forced to tear down a badly built interior wall, putting them way behind the others.
The green team suffers an unexpected setback when William is taken to hospital after an asthma attack.
Niahm's unorthodox management style has serious consequences on the progress of the red team.
With Clem missing, the red team is forced to adopt a more aggressive strategy in order to keep the green team from speeding ahead.
The competition heats up when Riaan makes the surprise announcement that the team to complete their roof first, will automatically win the all important speed points.
Both Nicola and Roberta struggle with their families. Nicola tries her best to motivate the beaten green team, while Roberta seems to loose the plot in a growing emotional meltdown.
Riaan and Vanessa look back at the first four and a half days. Obstacles are many, and emotions are high as the teams compete against each other and clock to walk away with a fully furnished and equipped house.
Tensions mount from the pressure, and finally explode between Roberta and Antoinette, leaving the teams surprised and shocked. Declan declares the feud must end.
Roberta apologises to Antoinette for her shocking outburst. But with only one day left, and pressures mounting, it's anyone's guess if this new truce will hold.
Roberta is visibly stressed when she and Mervin don't see eye to eye on the final touches. Mervin's had enough, and leaves the building site.
The last day has arrived and the teams scramble to get everything completed. In the rush, Joan is injured and is taken to the clinic, leaving the orange team one person short.
The teams work at a frantic pace to complete their houses. The final signal sounds, and the nerve wracking final inspections begin. The two families to walk away with furnished and equipped houses is revealed.
Chris Roland, Lee-Ann Cotton, Cecil Matlou, Pieter Lombaard
Chris Roland (scripts), Lee-Ann Cotton, Pieter Lombaard (inserts)
Chris Roland, Lee-Ann Cotton
In association with the Niall Mellon Township Trust, Development Bank of South Africa, and Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille.