Residents on Derby Road, Southampton, where Immigration Street was filmed.
There are currently few things more zeitgeist-y than moaning about immigrants. Local British politicians are at it, large groups of French fascists are at it – even immigrants themselves are it. So what better way to capitalise on all that bluster than by commissioning a television show that points cameras at a load of first, second and third-generation immigrants quietly getting on with their lives?
Immigration Street, Love Productions' new series for Channel 4, does just that, focusing on Southampton's Derby Road, which has been home to individuals whose families emigrated from places like Somalia, Jamaica, Pakistan, India, Canada and The Middle East for over four decades. It's a tight-knit, know-your-neighbour kind of community – and one that now feels in danger of facing abuse as a result of the series airing.
Signs telling Love Productions to clear off are plastered to windows all along the street, and cameramen have apparently been chased off by residents. Channel 4 have said the name of the show might be changed to assuage fears of a negative backlash, but a residents' association leader recently said that renaming the series "won't change" anything.
Eager to hear the residents’ views in their own words, we went down to Derby Road to speak to some of them. Many didn’t want to talk, but once we’d managed to convince them that we weren’t from Love Productions they stopped shouting at us in the street and began to open up. And they were not happy.
VICE: So have you heard about this Immigration Street thing?
Rashid, local taxi driver: On Derby Road, yeah.
What do you think about it?
I think it’s just another way for them to make money and exploit and marginalise a community. It’s just playing up to the media perspective of immigrants and doesn’t benefit anyone. It just creates animosity.
What negative impacts could you see it having for the community?
It doesn’t serve to bring people together – it just enforces the segregation of communities. It doesn’t help to educate anyone, because it's about exposing the immigration policies, which is an issue for the government, not an issue for individuals.
You’re just people living on a road, really.
Yeah, exactly. I know the residents were completely opposed to it. It seems like [Love Productions] were so persistent in doing it that I heard they walked through here with a couple of security guards. I mean, if it was a beneficial thing they wouldn't be fearing for their safety like that, would they?
Hi, where are you from?
Amanda: I’m from Toronto, Canada.
What do you think about the new documentary, Immigration Street?
Well, I heard they did another documentary called Benefits Street and it really had a backlash on the community. And this community is like any community – you have people who work really hard and take care of their property and the neighbourhood, and you have people who don’t. And when they came down here they focused on the people who don’t. So of course you’re going to put a bad spin on the neighbourhood.
It's interesting – being a white Canadian, you don’t really fit the stereotypical profile of an Immigration Street immigrant.
And I also happen to be Muslim; I just don’t wear a hijab.
How do you think the airing of Immigration Street might affect the community?
Well, I already know that the mosque at the end of the street has had all its windows smashed in.
When was this?
Within the last month. A friend of mine saw it. We’ve got four mosques in this neighbourhood, so it could be them being targeted. It could be the Muslim ladies walking down the street because most of them wear the hijab. Friends of mine – one’s British and one’s Czech, but they wear hijabs – actually had people accost them on the street while they had their babies in their strollers. That’s the backlash that’s going to happen. Poor innocent people are going to get hurt.
So what’s the deal with Immigration Street?
Bruno, Derby Street local: Well, whatever we say or do now there’s no chance it won’t go ahead.
How did Love Productions get residents to take part in the first place?
Basically what they did is they came into the area and said, "We’re doing this and we want to know about the street." [A Channel 4 spokesperson said: "Producers have spent several months getting to know the community. A range of residents have been keen to share their stories and the series will represent contributors’ lives and status fairly and accurately – with only those who have given their informed consent featuring in the series."] And from there it just all changed.
How long have you been living on Derby Road?
All my life. I’m born and bred here, but they’re going to be putting [the idea that I'm an immigrant] into other people’s heads. And we’re getting abused. Not just this area, but Southampton as well. Southampton’s going to be given a bad name, not just our area or our road. It’s taken about 40 to 50 years to clear up this road from what it used to be to what it is now, and it’s going to be [tough] trying to clear it back up again. And they’ll be making millions while we’ll be taking crap off people.
VICE: Hi Julia. What do you think about what’s going on here?
Julia, attendant in a Derby Road sari shop: Personally, I don’t really know much, but I’ve heard quite a bit and I know people aren’t really happy with the stuff that’s going on. I don’t blame them, because if you live here you should have a say in what goes on. I’ve noticed a lot of the film crew going around, and most of the time they’re just taking photos without asking people. [A Channel 4 spokesperson said: "Any filming will follow strict protocols in accordance with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code and only those contributors who have been extensively briefed and given their informed consent to appear will feature in the final series. If any residents request not to be filmed they will not be, however we have been encouraged by a number of local residents who are keen to share their stories."] I think that’s really wrong. Other than that, I just don’t see the point in what they’re doing.
You wouldn't watch a series called Immigration Street?
No, not really. I understand that there are immigrants here, but there are immigrants up and down the whole country, and there are also a lot of non-immigrants, so it kinda gives us a bad image at the end of the day, and that’s not nice.
Mohammed and Amina, second-generation immigrants who moved to Derby Road a few months ago.
What are your views on what’s been happening on Derby Road since the filming of Immigration Street?
Mohammed: Nearly every two or three days [police] vehicles come in here and arrest people. I don’t know why they're just focusing on this. If people are living here illegally, fine, but they came in my house. They said they were looking for someone who's not living in this house…they have a warrant to search our house. It’s ridiculous.
Yeah, and we're British. She was sleeping, I was at work and nearly seven to eight people… they come in our house and they were looking for someone.
So you’re both British born and bred?
She’s British, I’m British – we are living here for many years. It’s been nearly eight years I’m living in Southampton. I’ve never seen these things ever before.
How do you feel about the situation?
We're not getting any benefits. We're working, we're paying tax – we're doing everything [correctly] here, and in return, if you’re getting these types of things, what’s the point of living here? Amina is from Scotland. She came here after we married, and the scenario [with Love Productions]… she said, “Is this England? I don’t want to live here, to be honest – I’d like to go back to Scotland.”
So Immigration Street could be the last straw for you, depending on the fallout?
Hi, what are your thoughts on Immigration Street?
Veejay, Derby Street resident: Well, it’s not [having] a good impact in the community because they’re just making the area look bad. It’s similar to the Benefits Street thing, but the thing they have to remember is that there are immigrants everywhere, all over the world. I mean, our forefathers were immigrants at some stage, but they were hard-working immigrants when they came over – there wasn’t even a benefits system. But the way they’ve done [Immigration Street] is a bit ridiculous, because they came through here pretending to be all friendly with people.
When did the reception to them change?
They used to come in twos or three, and after that they knew they weren’t liked because these posters went up in everyone’s windows, and every time they showed up people would just swarm them. People would come up to them and say, "We’ll take your cameras off you in a minute and you won’t see them again – we’ll just run off with them if we see you here again."
Obviously they’ve made their documentary now. We’ve attended a few meetings, and some of the production company were at one meeting.
What did they say?
They just got grilled – there were literally hundreds of our community members there.
What was their response?
They said their aim is not to target the area. This community’s very close knit – everybody knows each other. There are all different nationalities here: Jamaicans, Sikhs, Muslims, Somalians. I’m born and bred here. I’m, like, third generation. Even my parents were born in this country. People look at me and they expect me not to speak English. As soon as I do they look surprised. They ask, “Where you from?” I’m from Southampton.
How could the show impact the community?
It’s not been good, but I’m glad that all the community stuck together. All the major faiths are all linked with each other around here, and they’ve got a forum of their own, so we always get together on a monthly basis and discuss issues in the community and how to resolve them.
I hope they don’t prosper from what they’ve done.
When I reached out for comment, I was emailed the following response by a Channel 4 spokesperson: "Immigration is one of the most fiercely debated and divisive issues in Britain, so it is vital that a public service broadcaster such as Channel 4 provides programming exploring these kinds of issues. However, Immigration Street does not purport to provide the definitive account of immigration in the UK – it will document life on a street in Southampton where the mix of residents has been transformed over time and continues to evolve as a result of immigration. Whilst the experience of the changes brought about by immigration differ across the UK, many of the themes that emerge from following life on Derby Road will be likely to resonate across the country."
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