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Party girls swap alcohol and make-up for the holy life at Norfolk convent

PUBLISHED: 09:50 19 October 2017 | UPDATED: 09:50 19 October 2017

The participants of Channel 5 show Bad Habits, Holy Orders, were welcomed back at the Sacred Heart Convent in Swaffham, where the series was filmed. Pictured are (from left) Gabby Ryan, Sarah Chelsea, sister Michaela Switaj and Tyler Lawrence. Picture: Ian Burt

The participants of Channel 5 show Bad Habits, Holy Orders, were welcomed back at the Sacred Heart Convent in Swaffham, where the series was filmed. Pictured are (from left) Gabby Ryan, Sarah Chelsea, sister Michaela Switaj and Tyler Lawrence. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2017

When it comes to choosing between methods of kicking bad habits such as boozing, boys and excessive smartphone use, it pays to go to a place where they’ll have absolutely nun of it.

The participants of Channel 5 show Bad Habits, Holy Orders, were welcomed back at the Sacred Heart Convent in Swaffham, where the series was filmed. Pictured are (from left) Gabbi Ryan, Sarah Chelsea, sister Michaela Switaj and Tyla Edwards. Picture: Ian Burt The participants of Channel 5 show Bad Habits, Holy Orders, were welcomed back at the Sacred Heart Convent in Swaffham, where the series was filmed. Pictured are (from left) Gabbi Ryan, Sarah Chelsea, sister Michaela Switaj and Tyla Edwards. Picture: Ian Burt

Bad Habits, Holy Orders on Channel Five tonight at 10pm, offers a rare glimpse into a Catholic convent (there has been no such access allowed in the past decade) at a way of life which appears hugely at odds to the the lives led by the five young women who arrive in Swaffham for “a spiritual journey”.

“I thought we were going to a spa or a retreat, a boot camp kind of thing,” said Gabbi Ryan, who grew up in North Walsham and now lives in London, “I wanted to take part in the experiment because I felt I had lost a lot of control over my life and that there was something missing.

“I am so pleased that I took part: it has genuinely changed my life. I needed that guidance, that wake-up call. My priorities have changed, my perceptions have changed and it is thanks to the wonderful women I met at the Sacred Heart Convent. I can’t thank them enough.”

The nuns at the convent, based in the middle of Swaffham, opened their home and their hearts to five thoroughly modern misses who had, as the title suggests, fallen into bad habits but felt there was something missing from their lives.

During their stay, the girls gave up their smartphones, alcohol and make-up and helped the Sisters with their community outreach duties - and without preaching or judging, the Sisters’ quiet compassion led all five girls to question the way they were living and have their own form of epiphany.

The culture clash is incredible: Rebecca, 19, from Newcastle, parties six nights a week but can only remember three of them, Paige, 23, a secretary from the West Country, has lost count of the number of men she has slept with, model Gabbi confesses that she’s addicted to social media, Tyla, 22, from Leeds, never comes home sober from a night out and nightclub hostess Sarah, 19, from London, sees nothing wrong with spending up to 10 hours a day on her mobile phone.

The Sisters of the Daughters of Divine Charity run a nursery, a care home and a school. They rise early for prayers, enjoy wholesome pursuits such as playing musical instruments and completing crosswords, are in silent contemplation from 10pm, have very few personal belongings and have a monthly allowance of £25.

On arrival at the Convent of the Sacred Heart the girls’ gadgets are confiscated, swearing is forbidden and they are expected to adhere to all the strict rules at the nunnery.

“Oh gosh!” says 85-year-old sister Thomas More when confronted by the five young women, all of whom arrive in a selection of revealing outfits, “I wouldn’t want them wandering around the convent like that.”

However, Sister Michaela, 23, who is nearest in age to their guests, tries to take a more tolerant view urging the 12-strong sisterhood: “It’s about not judging by appearances.”

Sr Francis Ridler from the Convent, who is also headteacher at the associated Sacred Heart School, said: “It is all about five girls who are not satisfied with their lifestyle, drinking, spending too much money on make-up and the good life, as it were.

“We tried to involve them in the life of the convent, in our prayers and community activities. It is a very down-to-earth film and although there were some scary moments, we feel it is an honest portrayal and good for the church. To transform the world legless is really not a good idea.

“I am happy with the film as entertainment and we think it will bring the lives of the Sisters into people’s homes and help them to understand better what we do and are all about. I can honestly say we felt we made a difference to their lives.”

An all-female production and camera team was involved in the four-part documentary, including Reepham-based Hannah Springham, and despite initially having little in common, both the Sisters and their guests bonded over the girls’ month-long stay.

“The girls were lovely, their hearts are full. They changed us and our perceptions, too,” said Sister Linda, who has been a Sister for 27 years, “It opened my eyes to the pressures that young women face these days and made me feel sad for them.”

Gabbi added: “I used to live my life thinking ‘What would Kim Kardashian do?’. Now the five of us have a Whatsapp group with some of the Sisters that is called ‘WWSS’ which stands for ‘What Would Sister Say?’.”

• Holy Orders begins on Channel 5 at 10pm.

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