The first thing I did when, in early March 2014, I heard a documentary would be filmed in my constituency is to consult with the residents of Derby Rd.
This was very early on, when it became apparent that Love Productions were looking to film a documentary called “Immigration Street” in Derby Rd. After some residents raised concerns, I sent out a letter asking all residents of Derby Rd to send me their views on whether they wanted the programme. 95% of a very significant number of responses said that they did not want the filming. Feedback from that exercise emphasised just how angry and disturbed residents were that a programme maker would descend from London and declare their street to be “immigration street” when the overwhelming majority of people on the road are British citizens. They also expressed concerns about the knock on effect that such a programme would have on what is now a vibrant and well-functioning community. It’s fair to say that residents’ concerns were fuelled by having heard about the fallout from Benefits Street.
Early on, I also met with Channel Four and put these points to them as the commissioning body, but they didn’t seem to take the concerns seriously. At this point, the local residents’ association and a number of other community organisations also expressed their concerns and started seeking proper assurances from Love Productions about how the programme would be carried out. It became apparent pretty early on that none of the concerns that were raised were going to be addressed by the production company. By the time a community-organised, public meeting had been convened, most avenues of dialogue appeared to have been exhausted and residents were frustrated that filming seemed to be continuing in an intrusive and cavalier fashion without any proper regard for the wishes of the local community.
Over the initial filming period, I did seek to support the continued efforts of the local community to have the whole question of commissioning and filming readdressed by Channel 4. I also strongly supported efforts by the health authorities, local police, local schools and the city council to get answers/further commitments from Love Productions and Channel 4 on a number of specific aspects of the filming. I also supported them in planning for what might happen within the local community as a result of the programme being filmed and aired, especially in light of the advice offered by the authorities in Birmingham following the screening of Benefits Street. Throughout the process I’ve tried to support local community efforts to maintain some kind of dialogue with the programme makers and, more recently, when it was clear that none of the community’s concerns were going to be addressed, to press Channel 4 not to show the programme in the form that was intended.
Filming ceased in the summer of 2014, by which time it was evident that virtually nobody in the community was willingly cooperating with the filming process. And indeed, a number of individuals who had initially “signed up” to feature in the series withdrew their consent after learning more about what the programme would actually be like. It is fair to say that by the summer, feelings of anger and frustration across the community in the Derby Rd area were running high and, among other things, a very widely adopted poster campaign in people’s windows illustrates this. There were at this point, one or two isolated incidents known to me of a number of harsh words being exchanged with the crew and, on one occasion, eggs being thrown at the crew. These events were certainly not organised by the local community, nor were they condoned or encouraged by the vast majority of the community or its agencies.
My role throughout this process has been to support the community to get answers to their questions about the programme, to participate in arrangements to deal with potential problems arising from the screening of the show, and also to continue to make representations to Channel 4 about the ill-advised arrangements for filming and content that they had apparently sanctioned.
In essence, that was medoing my job as a local MP, in representing my constituents and seeking to get redress for them. I am proud of the peaceful and constructive efforts the local Southampton residents undertook to protect their own community and I feel honoured to have been able to support their efforts in the way that I did.
I feel that the eventual outcome, which is effectively the cancellation of the series, was a positive move in vindication of the community’s efforts. However, I was very sad to see that the single programme that was put out using scraps of footage and some lengthy, self-referring material, didn’t bear any resemblance to the real concerns that had been expressed about the process and the lamentable failure of Channel 4 or Love Productions to address any of them. In my view, this is the prime reason for the wounds to the community that have been inflicted by this process. I hope at very least this whole experience serves to inform makers of similar future programmes that proper communication with the community is necessary to secure a fair and balanced portrayal of that community.