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Immigration Street ‘is of no benefit to us’

10 October 2014


Moving on: Deirdre Kelly, one of the residents of James Turner Street, speaks at a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference last week

Moving on: Deirdre Kelly, one of the residents of James Turner Street, speaks at a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference last week

CHANNEL 4's follow-up to its Benefits Street documentary series has been criticised by a parish priest.

The new show, to be called Immigration Street, centres on Derby Road in Southampton, an area that the TV company for the series, Love Productions, says has a long history of migration.

The Team Rector of the Southampton City Centre Team Ministry, the Revd Julian Davies, said that he feared the programme would undo his parish's excellent race relations.

"Southampton prides itself on excellent ethnic and inter-religious relations, in which many people across the communities have much invested time, effort and goodwill," Mr Davies said last week. "There is fear that this programme could undo some of this good work, and incite inter-community tensions through inviting unwelcome interest from groups outside, unsympathetic to what has been achieved here."

Love Productions' previous programme, Benefits Street, focused on James Turner Street in Birmingham, where, it was said, up to 90 per cent of the residents claimed benefits. The programme was a ratings hit for Channel 4, but sparked anger from some residents. They said that they had been misled by the TV company about the nature of the documentary (News, 24 January).

Mr Davies said: "The programme is inherently racist, in that it identifies immigration by the colour of the skin."

There were also other parts of central Southampton where more immigrants lived, he said. "If the crew had filmed in other parts of my parish, they would have encountered more immigrants, most of whom enrich life here, who promote good social values, and who make this part of Southampton into the wonderfully vibrant, international, and cosmopolitan place that it is."

Much of the opposition to Love Productions and Channel 4 in Birmingham was led by the Revd Steve Chalke, the founder of the Oasis Trust, which runs a school on James Turner Street. At the time, he said Benefits Street treated the residents as exhibits in a "human zoo".

In response to approaches from other communities, Oasis has now produced a "self-defence" toolkit to help communities resist similar documentaries.

Mr Chalke said: "I'm sick to death of seeing the communities in which we work - and I know well - being so damagingly misrepresented. The negative legacy that these 'documentaries' leave lingers in the community long after the cameras have packed up and gone."

The toolkit, which can be downloaded from the Oasis website, includes draft press releases, ideas for garnering more positive media coverage, and a "decoder" of TV-company language.

Not everyone on Derby Road is opposed to Immigration Street. Mohammed Afzal Khan, secretary of the Abu Bakr Mosque, on Argyle Road near by, told the BBC's Asian Network that he had happily been filmed talking about the part played by Muslims and the mosque in the area.

One Southampton councillor, Satvir Kaur, grew up in the area around Derby Road. She told a public meeting earlier this year that she and most residents were second- or third-generation immigrants. "This begs the question: at what point do me and my neighbours stop being classed or considered as immigrants, and start being considered British?" she asked.

A spokeswoman for Channel 4, Marion Bentley, said that the programme would not stoke up racial tension.

"Immigration is one of the most fiercely debated and divisive issues in Britain; so it is vital that a public-service broadcaster such as Channel 4 provides programming exploring these kinds of issues.

"All the filming has been with local residents, all of whom have given their express and informed consent to appear in the series."

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