The much-hyped and controversial Immigration Street – a Channel 4 docudrama, purporting to tell the true story of a diverse community in Southampton – is not the first TV show of its kind.
It’s produced by the same company and modelled on last year’s Benefits Street, a show with the much the same format, which tells the story of residents on a street in Birmingham, the majority of whom claim benefits.
However, instead of being about “community spirit” as the producers told the Birmingham residents it would be, it aired as something else entirely – a twisted narrative that stigmatised the most vulnerable in society.
In Immigration Street, Love Productions’ latest show, which will air tonight (February 24) at 10 pm, the target this time around is ostensibly immigration.
Interestingly enough, most of the residents on Derby Road, where the show was filmed, have settled in Southampton for generations upon generations. Although the community is ethnically diverse, very few of its residents would consider themselves immigrants.
Nadia, who runs a sari shop on Derby Road told UNITElive that she initially welcomed the filming of the show.
“I didn’t have a problem at all with Love Productions at first,” she explained. “They seemed like very nice people.”
But, as with the show’s predecessor, the title of the program wasn’t revealed until later.
“The producers came in and had very little respect for us. They said they would be showing the true story of our community but instead they’ve chosen to cast us in a negative light,” Nadia said.
“Decades ago this area was a very run down area,” she added, referring to the street’s reputation of being the red light district in Southampton in the 70s and 80s. “But we pulled together and made it what it is. It’s now very safe; we’re a very tight-knit community with close families and successful businesses.”
Nadia fears that after the airing of the show, however, all the progress the community has made will be reversed.
“People will be afraid to come here,” she said. “It could affect my business and the businesses around here. Those who criticise our reticence to be on the show say we have something to hide. But we have nothing to hide. We all get along here just fine. We just want to be left alone.”
Rashid Islam, a solicitor for a local food market on Derby Road, agrees.
“The community here is very close in spite of – or maybe even because of – our diversity. All sorts have come through here. We have Jamaicans, Irish, Asians, everyone. And we all respect each other.”
“But after Immigration Street, things could change. Businesses will suffer, house prices could go down, and the quality of the schools in the area too could also be affected for the worse,” Rashid explained.
“Those who did agree to participate in the show, I think they were lured by the temptation of fame,” he said. “But now, I’ve heard that some of the participants are regretting their decision.”
Rashid noted the way in which the show’s producers created a narrative based on selective storytelling.
“They are obviously looking to sensationalise what happens here on Derby Road, so they purposely look for people with a chequered past,” he said. “But if you think about it, every single community will have at least one person who, say, has drug problem. That doesn’t mean the entire community is filled with drug addicts. This is how they twist the story.”
Nadia feels the same way.
“The media is incredibly powerful, more powerful than many of us realise. They have the ability to set the agenda and can cast a community in a positive or negative light, to once and for all establish a community’s reputation,” she said. “We’re at their mercy completely.”
Nadia recounts how White Dee, a character from Benefits Street, came to visit Derby Road. And what did she have to say?
“Don’t do it. That’s what she told all us.”
Joe Dukes (pictured), a Unite Community member living in Southampton, has been heavily involved in a campaign to stop Immigration Street from airing.
The campaign has been mostly successful, since Immigration Street was initially set to be a six-part series. Now, however, it will air tonight as only one, hour-long episode, after filming had been disrupted by community protests.
Campaign groups also protested outside the Love Productions studio in London last month.
Dukes was inspired to participate in the campaign in order to preserve the community spirit he’d grown up with in Southampton.
“I absolutely love living in such a diverse community,” he said. “I’ve lived here all my life and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Stopping Immigration Street for me is about protecting my community.”
Dukes condemns the carelessness with which Love Productions forced its way into local communities.
“As a business, all they care about is their bottom line,” Dukes said. “Sensationalism sells, and the company couldn’t care less what happens to the community afterwards.
“We saw it with Benefits Street. After the show had aired, residents were being threatened, and children were being bullied in schools.
“We can’t let this happen here. We are a community, and we have a duty to look after one another.”