‘It’s their choice’ – residents’ support for Benefits Street filming on Teesside

TV STAR: White Dee, who became famous after appearing on Benefits Street
TV STAR: White Dee, who became famous after appearing on Benefits Street

Filming of a new series of the controversial reality TV show Benefits Street has started in Stockton to the fury of some - but with the support of some locals living on the next estate to feature in the Channel 4 show.

A film crew was working in Kingston Road, Stockton, on the next instalment of the hit programme which caused a furore in January when it featured people living in James Turner Street, Birmingham.

In Stockton, local MPs and the council leader were disappointed their town had been chosen, despite the production company being told they were not welcome.

Journalists visiting the street to gauge local opinion were met with a hostile reaction, as local youngsters threw eggs.

The bearded, tattooed camera operator working for Benefits Street filmed reporters’ attempts to speak to locals.

John Ford, 18, who lives in Kingston Road, was happy his area would be in the show, saying: “I’ve got friends who will be in it. It’s their choice.”

He had chosen not to be featured and said producers have told him he will have his face blanked out.

He thought Benefits Street could help Kingston Road, which stands north of Stockton town centre, close to Holme House Prison and around 100 yards from the impressive four-year-old North Shore Academy.

“It’s getting it out there what’s going on,” he said.

After being in trouble with the law, he said he might now be helped to break the cycle with advice on where to turn from the programme-makers.

Kingston Road, where according to the property website Zoopla a three-bedroom terraced house costs £50,000, was busy with activity.

Locals walked up and down the street, filmed by the crew.

A salesman who has worked on the estate for years said there were other areas “ten times worse” nearby.

“There are some respectable people living here,” he said. “But it all depends on their age. There are a lot of under 25s and they can be a problem.”

The first series of Benefits Street made a star of Deirdre Kelly, better known as White Dee, who is currently appearing in Celebrity Big Brother.

It set out to depict a close-knit community where many of the residents receivedbenefits. Critics of the show claimed it exploited the participants and branded it “poverty porn”.

Ofcom received 900 complaints about the shows but it cleared the broadcaster of breaching any rules.

Channel 4’s Head of Documentaries, Nick Mirsky, who has commissioned the new series, said: “It brought a very human focus to an issue that is at the heart of who we are in Britain today. I’m sure the new series will advance that debate and introduce viewers to a new group of compelling residents.”

Love Production’s Creative Director for Factual, Kieran Smith, added: “Like many places in the UK Stockton has been hit hard by the recession and economic decline.

“Those who are reliant on welfare for the majority of their income are some of the hardest hit.

“We have been invited to share in the lives of the residents of one street where many people rely on benefits to survive.

“It’s an incredibly close community and whilst people may not have much they do have one another to turn to for help.”

Alex Cunningham, Labour MP for Stockton North where the programme is being shot, hopes to talk people into pulling out of appearing on the show.

He said: “There is no doubt this is about exploiting vulnerable people in order to make money.

“I know they will say it is about trying to give people a voice, but all they will do is expose them to the full glare of the national media.”

Mr Cunningham was on holiday but said he will visit the street when he returns, adding: “I would hope we can still get people to pull out.”

James Wharton, Tory MP for Stockton South, said: “I don’t want them here making a programme which will show people in the worst possible light and potentially do such huge damage.

“For the producers it’s easy ratings for a few weeks, but the damage they do can last much longer.”

Stockton Council leader Bob Cook was “deeply disappointed” the Benefits Street cameras were in the town.

“No doubt this programme won’t highlight the excellent work that is on-going to make our town an even better place to live and work,” he said.