An open letter to the makers of Benefits Street

MISPLACED FOCUS: Filming of the controversial Benefits Street documentary in Kingston Road, Stockton

Why do you preach fair ‘representation’ but then exclude the majority of residents? Mike McGrother

First published in Leader
Last updated

DEAR Love Productions, I understand that you have decided to come to our town and make a television series about it. As far as I can see your justification comprises: 1) There are unemployed people there claiming benefits; 2) You will be giving them “a voice”.

I find your statement, “In Stockton and the Kingston Road area there are a large number of people on benefits” at best lazy – and at worst unscientific. If this is the level of research Love Productions proudly use to back up their choices, the academics of Oxford, Cambridge and the academic world must be quaking in their boots!

I then note you want to “give a voice to a community that don’t really have a voice”.

How wonderfully philanthropic and not in the least bit patronising of you.

But you see the thing is, we Stocktonians already have a timeless voice we are deeply proud of. It could be heard consistently in a summer where you have been identifying locations – through our massive community carnival – a loud and proud celebration of all that is good in Stockton; it could be heard in our festivals and markets; it could be heard and sensed when thousands of people participated in our 1245 Sunflower commemoration and, at the same time as our schools, our workplaces and community hubs continued to work tirelessly to make our town as good as it can be. Will these positives – extraordinary examples of community voice and participation – be represented in your programme?

If not and IF you would like to truly give us a voice then why did your production crews not film these and choose to work so secretively?

Why have you not consulted properly with local support services and – if and when you did talk to them – ignore what they advised?

Why do you preach fair “representation”

but then exclude the majority of residents?

And do you really doubt our integrity so much to think we believe that television editing can provide a fair, honest and truthfully representative platform from which people can be heard?

Why are you filming in areas not related to Kingston Road and filming participants in sections of the town being readied for regeneration?

Why are you bringing in horse-riding young people from different locations?

You see just as you are watching Stockton, Love Productions – we are watching you.

“Reality” television isn’t really an accurate expression is it?

I’m disappointed that you have done nothing to quell a local myth that you were in some way invited to Stockton – given permission – sanctioned. Would you, in the spirit of openness and self-professed representation, please be very open and explain how your industry works?

You approached individuals and families.

You provided them with promises, contracts and, of course, freedom of choice and – without breaking any laws or needing permissions – you will continue to convince them that this is going to be great for them, that you are giving them a voice, and that this an opportunity for financial and personal gain. And then you will move on. That is what you do.

AND so finally – whilst we can’t stop your ironically named “Love Production”

team coming to Stockton, what I – and more people than you may wish to think about – can also not be stopped from making our own “productions” whilst you try to film.

If we disrupt your lives over the coming months, think about how you are disrupting ours and those of your “participants” – people I call them but whom you will barely be able to name in 12 months’ time. Don’t expect demonstrations, conflict or confrontation.

But do expect to start to witness a community that already has an identity, a spirit and a very much bigger voice than you perhaps anticipated – to be heard, to be seen and to shine – when you least expect it.

But if you want, meet me and I will show you our real town. It is a rich and beautiful place full of heritage, enterprise and potential that I and many more call home. Welcome to Stockton.

Comments (1)

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10:46am Thu 28 Aug 14

foss says...

Well since no-one else has bothered to comment, let me the first to say - well done Mike.
Well since no-one else has bothered to comment, let me the first to say - well done Mike. foss
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