It’s long been a popular complaint on Teesside that whenever our area appears in the media, it’s usually shown in the worst possible light.
Whether that’s sweeping shots of the industrial landscape or Kirstie and Phil voting Middlesbrough the worst place to live in the UK, it’s rare for us to get positive press.
So I was disheartened to read last week in the local paper that the team behind Channel 4’s controversial Benefits Street is apparently making enquiries about filming their next series in Middlesbrough.
I didn’t watch the first series, a documentary filmed in Birmingham that follows several residents from one street, where the majority claim benefits. However, I’ve seen numerous newspaper articles on the programme, decrying the participants and their lifestyle, whilst they argued that they’d been misled by the producers about the way they would be depicted on screen.
Unemployment and poverty are a massive problem in Middlesbrough, as they are in many large towns and cities in the UK. But making a mockery of the people living on benefits isn’t going to help anyone. It might provide the show’s participants with a kind of fame, but what will this notoriety ultimately bring them? They’ll become a stereotype, held up in the media as a typical Middlesbrough resident, which won’t help the town to shake its image as a rundown dump.
But there have been a couple of shows in recent years that have approached these issues in a more constructive way.
Also from Channel 4, The Secret Millionaire sees a successful business person or entrepreneur taken to live undercover in a deprived area. Whilst episodes have been filmed in neglected parts of town, they’ve also highlighted some of the fantastic local charities and community organisations, and the work they do for people in the area.
And earlier this year, Sky 1 screened Ashley Banjo’s Big Town Dance, a documentary series that followed street dance crew Diversity as they persuaded Stockton residents to take part in a public dance show. The focus of the show was to bring life back to Stockton’s High Street, which has declined in recent years. Each episode followed a different group of residents from the town, highlighting characters with particularly interesting or inspiring stories.
This was such an upbeat and inspiring show; exactly the kind of project that we need to see more of on Teesside.
Because if we only ever focus on the negatives, that’s all people outside the area will ever see.