Community leaders have condemned controversial TV programme Benefits Street for openly shows drug dealing and substance abuse in Stockton.
The show, which was filmed in Kingston Road on the Tilery Estate follows on from the first series which made stars of some of the inhabitants of Birmingham‘s James Turner Street but was described by some critics as “poverty porn“.
Among the residents introduced in the first Stockton episode is Neil Maxwell who is shown bagging up cannabis, smoking the drug and taking pills before a court appearance.
The Northern Echo reported in March that Maxwell and his brother Robert were jailed for a double stabbing after one of them was accused of stealing money and tobacco from a neighbour. Both admitted unlawful wounding and Neil Maxwell was locked up for two years and three months.
The 36-year-old, who told the film crew he has taken “early retirement” from a life of crime after a string of convictions, said he claimed benefits because he suffers from memory loss.
In one scene, he is seen spending his benefits money to top up his tan at a local sunbed salon.
Kieran Smith, from Love Productions which makes the show, said they had followed “strict guidelines” about filming illegal activity.
“We filmed with Maxwell for quite a long period of time and he was very clear about the potential repercussions about his behaviour and what might happen to him.”
Mr Smith said the show was “not glorying in his behaviour” and was “quite an honest account of what his life is like.”
But Cllr Bob Cook, the leader of Stockton Borough Council, Labour, condemned the programme makers. He said:
“Why wasn’t this reported to the police? If there’s a crime the police should be told, that would responsible.”
> I suspect the police will know about it all by now ! I dont think they are dealing with a criminal mastermind here.
Cllr Cook accepted that there was poverty in Stockton but argued the programme was unlikely to give a fair portrayal of the town. He said:
“There is deprivation in Stockton but we also have some of the most affluent areas in the country and it is one of the best areas of the country to start a business.”
The word on the street was “This is Stockton-on-Tees” as thousands of residents attempted the world’s biggest game of Chinese Whispers to bolster the town’s image before a controversial Channel 4 documentary is broadcast.
Over two days ‘The Loudest Whisper’ will spread the message at some of the borough’s beauty spots including Infinity Bridge, Preston Park Museum and Grounds, and Wynyard Hall.
The ‘Psst…’ (Positively Stockton-on-Tees) Campaign was launched after filming for the Benefits Street series started last year which, it is feared, will negatively portray residents living in Kingston Road in the deprived Tilery area.
The first series, based in Birmingham, was branded ‘poverty porn’, however the hit show’s producers insisted it was about ‘giving a voice’ to a little known section of society.
World champion Stockton sprinter Richard Kilty demonstrated his pride for his home town by starting the “This is Stockton-on-Tees” whisper with more than 200 pupils at North Shore Academy, near Kingston Street, before 800 people passed it on over Infinity Bridge.
The message was then spread around 300 teenagers on their lunch break at Stockton Sixth Form College before it was put on ice at the Billingham Forum skating rink.
The makers of Benefit Street, Love Productions, said on its website about the documentary:
“It’s a place where residents face challenges such as bringing up children in poverty, low levels of education and training, drug and alcohol dependency, and crime. But it also has a strong sense of community, where people look out for each other and where small acts of kindness can go a long way.”
Mike McGrother, frontman of the Wildcats of Kilkenny who masterminded the ambitious Psst…event with Stockton Borough Council, said:
“The nature of a Chinese Whisper reminds us that a message can be manipulated, but we are choosing to remind people of how a positive message can bring a community together.
Phil Mulhaire who produced the spectacle, added:
“This is a light-hearted response to the Benefit Street programme because people feel it will not a true reflection, that its people are not feckless, this is to show the other side.”
Source – Northern Echo, 14 Mar 2015
Benefits Street now looks unlikely to air before the General Election in May.
The second series of the controversial series has been filmed on Kingston Road in Stockton’s Tilery Estate.
It was previously understood that the series was set to air in March, after sources close to the show suggested it would be around that time.
However, due to tight broadcasting rules of what airs in the run-up to a General Election, it could now be after voting has taken place in May.
Anything deemed as politically contentious needs to stick to strict broadcasting guidelines.
It’s not clear if Benefits Street would fall into this category or whether this would prevent Channel 4 from screening it as adaptations can be made to ensure it adheres by any rules.
But it was reported in The Guardian’s Media Monkey column that it will be a six-episode series, going out after the election.
“Channel 4’s Immigration Street may have been derailed by protesters (it’s down to a single film) but the second run of Benefits Street is still very much on track – six episodes will be aired about an estate in Stockton-on-Tees after the General Election,” it stated.
“It seems the new series will also cover the media kerfuffle the show has created: Love Productions’ Benefits Street crew has filmed the crews sent by other broadcasters including the BBC, who in turn were sent to film them filming the residents.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 16 Feb 2015
A well-known Stockton singer has delivered a Valentine’s card to a top Benefits Street producer as part of a campaign against the show.
Love Productions’ supremo Kieran Smith was said to be ‘bemused’ by the gesture which was carried out as part of the Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign, launched as a response to the potentially negative publicity which may brought by the controversial series.
Wildcats of Kilkenny star Mike McGrother delivered the card, containing a simple ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ message, to the Holborn headquarters.
“The whole nature of our response to Love Productions is that we have made a decision to mirror what they do, but as a ‘lovelier’ production,” said Mike.
“They chose to come to our hometown uninvited and work in a way that they choose.
“We are simply starting our response by visiting them uninvited and reminding them, Valentine’s style, that things can be done in a ‘lovelier’ way – and that will continue to underpin our planned response.”
The Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign was launched in November.
Attention will soon shift to the campaign’s centrepiece event, The Loudest Whisper, which will see a whispered message passed around the entire Borough.
It will take place over the two days of Friday, March 13 and Saturday, March 14 and will also raise money for Comic Relief.
People across the region and beyond are being encouraged to show their love for the Borough by sharing photographs, videos and stories.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 14 Feb 2015
Plans to put a more positive spin on a North-East town ahead of the airing of the next series of Channel 4’s Benefits Street are underway.
TV company Love Productions chose Kingston Street in Stockton to film its second series of the popular Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall show, dubbed by some as “poverty porn“.
The next series is expected to air in March and Stockton Borough Council says it is expecting a less-than-flattering portrayal of the town.
Now businesses are throwing their weight behind a campaign to shine a positive light on Stockton.
The Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign has a website – http://www.positivelystocktonontees.co.uk – and social media accounts have been set up for people to share photographs, videos and stories about the area.
Now, thanks to donations from local businesses, the best submissions will be rewarded in a monthly prize giveaway, the first of which is afternoon tea for four at Wynyard Hall.
Council leader Bob Cook said:
“We came up with this campaign to create a space where people can share their views on what they love about Stockton-on-Tees and we’ve been delighted with the response so far.
Mike McGrother, Wildcats of Kilkenny frontman, said:
“What has been lovely about the response so far is the overwhelming reaction from across the borough – and beyond.
“We may not have the revenues and reach of Love Productions – but what we will do in response is a much ‘lovelier’ production all round.”
To find out more about the Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign, and how to get involved, visit:
or follow the campaign on Twitter @positivelySOT
Source – Northern Echo, 19 Jan 2015
The second series of the observational documentary series is being filmed in Kingston Road, Tilery, in Stockton.
It comes after the first – based in Birmingham – attracted huge controversy.
Sources close to the show havesaid that the first instalment of the second series of Benefits Street is expected to be shown on Channel 4 in March next year – although the exact date is still undecided.
The decision to film in Stockton caused widespread outrage, with some accusing Channel 4 of using “poverty tourism” to chase ratings.
The first series made stars of some of its cast but was described by some critics as “poverty porn”.
Austin Mitchell, the Labour MP for Great Grimsby, accused the broadcaster of perpetuating a “monstrous travesty of reality”.
And Labour’s Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham wrote to every resident of Kingston Road asking them to “think again” about taking part in the documentary.
He also suggested the makers of the programme, Love Productions, should “get out of the town”.
After the story broke in August that the show WAS being filmed on Teesside, Boro fans at the Riverside Stadium unveiled a banner reading “Being poor is not entertainment”.
Boro supporters’ group Red Faction were behind the banners unveiled in the south stand of the Riverside Stadium during Boro’s game against Reading.
Group member Steve Fletcher, 27, said at the time: “Shows like this demonise working class people. They need help, not mocking.”
However, the chief executive of Channel 4 defended its decision to make another series of Benefits Street in Stockton.
Despite the fierce local and national criticism of the show, Ralph Lee, boss of the channel, said that the broadcaster’s output would not be “censored”.
Mr Lee told a national newspaper:
“We can’t let this kind of criticism have a chilling effect on making programmes.
“In a way what they are calling for is a form of censorship and I am always really suspicious of that.
“I defend our right – and the necessity – to tell the stories of some of the distressed parts of our society.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 24 Nov 2014
The chief executive of Channel 4 has defended its decision to make another series of Benefits Street in Stockton.
Despite fierce local and national criticism of the show, Ralph Lee, boss of the channel, said that the broadcaster’s output would not be ‘censored’.
The second series of Benefits Street is being filmed on Kingston Road, in Tilery in Stockton – leading to MPs and council leaders condemning the show, community groups launching a petition and Boro fans unveiling a banner at the Riverside Stadium reading “Being poor is not entertainment”.
But Mr Lee told a national newspaper:
“We can’t let this kind of criticism have a chilling effect on making programme” .
“In a way what they are calling for is a form of censorship and I am always really suspicious of that. I defend our right – and the necessity – to tell the stories of some of the distressed parts of our society.”
Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham wrote to every resident of Kingston Road asking them to “think again” about taking part in the Channel 4 documentary.
The Labour MP had already suggested the makers of the programme, Love Productions, should “get out of the town” after accusing them of setting people up for “entertainment purposes only”.
And two Stockton mums Charlotte Hall and Di Hewitt launched an online petition, attracting 1,700 names, asking Love Productions to leave Stockton.
Middlesbrough football supporters group, Red Faction, were behind the banners unveiled in the south stand of the Riverside Stadium during Boro’s game against Reading.
Group member Steve Fletcher, 27 said at the time:
“I was hoping it would catch people’s eye at the match and help raise awareness.
“I don’t think the show will paint Teesside in a particularly good light. It is trivialising a serious social issue.
“Shows like this demonise working class people. They need help not mocking.”
Business and council leaders condemned the filming, saying that it would “misrepresent” Stockton.
And proud Stocktonian Mike McGrother, frontman in local band Wildcats of Kilkenny, caused an internet storm when he sent an impassioned letter praising the town to producers.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 28 Oct 2014
A cameraman has hit back at controversial TV show Benefits Street being filmed in the North with his own homage to his beloved hometown.
Crews from Love Productions are filming the second series of the TV show, which follows people living off benefits, on Kingston Road in Stockton for Channel Four.
But Karl Coates, who has worked as a cameraman and producer for Sky News and BBC, said he fears the controversial TV show will only show Stockton in a negative light.
In a rebuttal to the image he expects the programme to portray of his beloved hometown, the cameraman has gone out to film his own short video to show all the great things about the area.
In the short videos Karl states that Stockton, Teesside and the North East “will yet again be hung out to dry”.
The idea of ‘welfare ghettos’ full of streets where nobody works is a myth, according to research carried out in Middlesbrough by a Teesside University academic.
Professor Rob MacDonald says the concept of ‘benefits streets‘ – brought to the public’s attention by the television programme currently filming its second series in Stockton – don’t exist.
Residents of Kingston Road on Stockton’s Tilery Estate will feature in the next run of the Channel 4 show, due to be broadcast early next year.
A popular misconception of such areas, Mr MacDonald says, is that they are dominated by families who haven’t worked over generations and that unemployment is the preferred way of life.
Instead, his research found, even in deprived areas most households contain people who work and younger people want to find jobs.
The first series of Benefits Street, filmed on James Turner Street in Birmingham, was met with tabloid headlines about “90% of residents on hands-out” and “the street where 9 out of 10 households are on welfare“.
But Mr MacDonald says those figures are misleading.
His research, conducted along with Professor Tracy Shildrick from Leeds University and Professor Andy Furlong from Glasgow University, was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Their studies in Middlesbrough and Glasgow focused on 20 families and aimed to find out whether some popular ideas about the unemployed were actually myths.
Mr MacDonald said:
“In seeking neighbourhoods to test out the ideas, we selected areas with very high levels of worklessness – perhaps like the makers of Benefits Street.
“Even with these extreme cases, the majority of local people of working age were not on unemployment benefits. This is a far cry from the situation where an entire community sits on benefits for life.”
In James Turner Street recent statistics have shown that between 62% and 65% of households have somebody in employment – meaning that 35% to 38% of households could be described as workless.
Mr MacDonald said:
“In this sense, James Turner Street is very similar to the neighbourhoods we researched in Glasgow and Middlesbrough.”
Confirmation that Benefits Street was being filmed on Teesside caused widespread anger.
The Gazette’s photographer was egged while taking pictures of film crews on Kingston Road, Boro fans have displayed banners protesting against the series and families have started petitions against the programme.
Love Productions, the company behind the series, insists its intention is to give the communities taking part “a voice“.
In the university research, of the younger people interviewed who did not have jobs, most had brothers and sisters who were working.
Mr MacDonald added:
“This throws into doubt theories that rely on the idea that individuals are so swamped by negative role models and so bereft of positive examples of people in jobs that they learn that worklessness is the norm and to be preferred.
“The idea of ‘benefit ghettos’ where unemployment is a ‘lifestyle choice’ is a powerful one that helps justify the government’s cuts to welfare budgets. Yet our research has demonstrated that this is a myth, in the sense that it does not reflect the facts of the matter.
“If a culture of worklessness cannot be found in the extremely deprived neighbourhoods we studied, then they are unlikely to explain more general patterns of worklessness in the UK.”
In response to the research, the government insisted that “sadly, joblessness isn’t a myth”.
A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said:
“In 2010, the number of families with no one working peaked at over 3.9 million.
“Latest figures show that this has fallen by 450,000 suggesting we were right to implement a radical overhaul of the welfare system.
“We are very careful about the language we use – making it clear that it is very often the system itself that has trapped people on benefits.”
The study that Mr MacDonald contributed to, ‘Benefits Street and the Myth of Workless Communities’, was published in the Sociological Research journal.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 12 Sept 2014
A petition against Benefits Street being filmed in Stockton has gained more than a 1000 signatures.
The campaign was started on change.org by two Stockton mums Charlotte Hall and Di Hewitt little over a week ago and has been shared across social media.
In total 1,409 people have signed the petition on the site – which is the world’s largest petition platform – against the show being filmed on Kingston Road at Tilery, Stockton.
They took to Stockton High Street today to collect yet more signatures.
Their Twitter account @StocktonSaysNo also has more than 500 followers – and Twitter users have joined discussion of the topic using #NoBenefitsStreet.
Once the pair have finished collecting signatures they will be delivered to both Channel 4 and the production company Love Productions.
Social worker and mum of two Di, who lives in Eaglescliffe, said:
“Through my work, I’m impressed by the strong community spirit in the North- east and feel that it is important that outsiders see this rather than negative stereotypes.
“I’m not originally from Stockton, I moved up from the East Midlands 22 years ago and think that Stockton is a fantastic place to live and raise children.
“I want my kids to feel that Stockton is a good place to live and work and that there are endless opportunities for them.”
Carer and mum of two Charlotte, from Stockton, said:
“I was born in Stockton and have lived here all my life.
“Only a few weeks ago after enjoying SIRF and attending the 1245 Sunflowers events I was saying how far Stockton has come and how there’s so much to get involved in.
“I don’t want to see that hard work ruined by our town being associated with a stigmatising programme like Benefits Street.”
Chris Flanagan, from Stockton, said on the petition page:
“Sixth best place to live one week…Benefits Street the next!”.
Emma-Bliss Harding, from Norton, said:
“I live in Norton and heard they were filming at the duck pond which is near my house.
“I don’t want the area that I love in displayed in a bad light.
“This programme is nothing but negative.”
Hayley Garland, from Stockton, said:
“We are proud of our town, our heritage, arts, culture and thriving independent shops.
“Take your sensationalist TV somewhere else!”
Christine Thompson, from Stockton, said:
“My hometown is starting to get back on its feet and I fear that this will be a big backward step.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 04 Sept 2014