A major new campaign has been launched to hit back against any negative portrayal of Stockton from the controversial show Benefits Street.
The Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign is a light-hearted response to what is expected to be a less than flattering portrayal of the borough when the Channel 4 series airs next year.
And people across the borough and beyond are being encouraged to show their love for Stockton by sharing photographs, videos and stories.
A new website – http://www.positivelystocktonontees.co.uk – and social media accounts have been set up to kick-start the campaign.
The decision to film the second series of Benefits Street 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 critics as “poverty porn”.
After the story broke , Middlesbrough FC fans at the Riverside Stadium unveiled a banner reading “Being poor is not entertainment”.
But despite the fierce local and national criticism of the show, Channel 4 chief executive Ralph Lee said the broadcaster’s output would not be “censored”.
He defended the channel’s right “to tell the stories of some of the distressed parts of our society”.
Leader of Stockton Council, Councillor Bob Cook said:
“We did everything in our power to persuade the producers of Benefits Street to turn their attentions elsewhere. Sadly, you can’t win them all.
“What became clear, though, was that lots of people agreed with us that this is not a good thing for the borough.
“So, we’ve decided to focus our energies on turning a negative into a positive. We’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to respond to a series like Benefits Street is to celebrate, with good humour and quiet confidence, all that is great about our fine borough.”
The campaign will give people the opportunity to share their views on what they love about Stockton.
The council will support the campaign, but now want to “hand it over the public”, said Cllr Cook.
“This is a borough-wide campaign for the whole of Stockton-on-Tees. We’re delighted that our local media – The Gazette, Northern Echo and BBC Tees – are in agreement with us and have agreed to unite in their support of us.
“Whether you’re from Stockton, Billingham, Yarm, Eaglescliffe, Thornaby, Norton or Ingleby Barwick, we’d love you to get involved.”
Benefits Street is expected to be aired in March 2015 and the Positively Stockton campaign – also known as “Psst…” – features a major event that same month.
Billed as The Loudest Whisper, the event on Friday, March 13, will see a whispered message passed around the borough – starting and ending in Kingston Road – where the series is being filmed.
The message will be passed from person to person using human chains as well as all kinds of transport, from horses and rowing boats to buses and bikes.
The event, which will also raise money for Comic Relief, is being organised by Wildcats of Kilkenny frontman and proud Stocktonian Mike McGrother.
“There has been an assumption from the producers of Benefits Street that we’re a community that needs to be given a voice,” he said.
“To present this as ‘factual’ television designed to engineer some kind of social benefit is a bit arrogant I think.
“There’s an abundance of community pride in Stockton – it’s just not our style to go shouting it from the rooftops. But if we’re faced with a series that seeks to paint us in an unfair light on national television, we shouldn’t take that lying down.
“Through the Loudest Whisper event and the Positively Stockton campaign, we can dispel the myths that will inevitably be trotted out using the sense of humour, community spirit and understated manner people in our borough are renowned for.
“And it’s all for Comic Relief. Our voices, though quiet, will be heard!”
The new campaign also has the support of Stockton’s MPs.
Alex Cunningham, Labour, in whose Stockton North constituency Benefits Street is being filmed, said:
“There is much for us to be positive about our borough from the talent and resilience of our people to the powerhouse of the local council and other organisations doing their best in difficult circumstances to create jobs, improve our town centres and make life better for us all.
“It is tremendous that our community is reacting in such a positive way.
“Doubtless Channel 4 will claim our campaign would never have happened but for their unwelcome intrusion into our community, but they will be wrong again – there have been many positive initiatives over the years promoting our success, which is perhaps why the borough is seeing its population grow and why it was voted one of the best places in the country to do business.”
James Wharton, Conservative MP for Stockton South, said:
“If you look around you in Stockton you see things getting better – more jobs, more investment, a town and community proud of its past and looking to its future.
“We need to talk up what makes us great and this campaign is a brilliant addition to that. Benefits Street will show what they want, we will show the truth and talk up Teesside.”
To find out more about the Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign, and how to get involved, visit: www.positivelystocktonontees.co.uk
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 28 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
Wildcats of Kilkenny frontman Mike McGrother wrote this to Love Productions.
As revealed yesterday, Love Productions is currently filming the second series of the controversial Channel Four show in Kingston Road on the Tilery Estate in Stockton.
Middlesbrough Evening Gazette published a detailed interview with the company in which one of its directors explained why Teesside had been chosen for the second series.
And that prompted proud Stocktonian Mike – who had previously contacted the Daily Mail over its coverage of the town – to write this open letter to Love Productions.
“I understand you have decided to come to our town and make a television series about it.
“As far as I can see, your justification comprises of:
“1. There are unemployed people there;
“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 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 during the summer through our massive carnival, in festivals, sunflower commemorations and in our schools, workplaces and community hubs.
“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?
“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?
“And so while we can’t stop your ironically named ‘Love Productions’ team coming to Stockton, what I – and more people than you may wish to think about – can also not be stopped from is 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.
“Don’t expect demonstrations, conflict or confrontation.
“But do expect 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.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 27 Aug 2014