With a general election barely two months away, Ukip soaring in the polls, and immigration at the top of the political agenda, a show about the influx of migrants into British urban life was always going to be controversial. But the makers of Channel 4’s Immigration Street were not prepared for the levels of hostility they faced when they set up their cameras on Southampton’s Derby Road.
Love Productions had planned a six-part series along similar lines to Benefits Street, which they also produce. But in the face of a passionate local campaign against so-called “poverty porn”, and amid violent threats from a local gang, they were forced to pull out, having only gathered enough material for one programme.
Kieran Smith, factual creative director of Love Productions, says Southampton was chosen because of its diverse ethnic mix. “Once my team started looking at places to go, Derby Road got mentioned quite a few times,” he says. “Here was a place that colloquially is known as ‘the jungle’. It’s a place that has had a lot of changes because of immigration, and there are 30 or 40 languages spoken there.”
According to the latest census data, the area is 23 per cent white British, compared with a national average of 81 per cent. Just under eight per cent of residents are black, and 46 per cent are from an Asian background. Film-makers had initially signed up about 30 residents to take part. But then came the backlash.
Satvir Kaur, a local Labour councillor, started to campaign against the show. “The fact that they’re calling it Immigration Street implies that the area is full of ‘immigrants’,” she says. “It sends out a terrible message. I’m second generation. At what point will I be considered British, rather than an immigrant? I’m happy to have an open and balanced debate, but documentaries like this don’t allow that.”