The Saints Go Marching
By Joe Lowry
I’m always interested in what’s happening in the English port city of Southampton. My great-grandmother sailed in there from Ireland as a migrant at the end of the 19th century, and I spent childhood summers near there, splashing in the bracing bays off Lymington, walking under the verdant canopy of the New Forest. I cheer for the Saints, the local football team, who are enjoying a renaissance and have a chance of qualifying for the Champions League next year.
It’s a sleepy, lazy, lovely part of the world, with a good standard of living. It’s no surprise that people want to live there – there was a French quarter even before the Norman conquest. It’s always been linked with migrants – the Romans shipped slaves from there, and the Pilgrim Fathers set sail in the Mayflower in 1623.
Now migration is a hot topic once again. The UK’s Channel 4 is filming a new series called “Immigration Street”, set in the city. And the residents of Derby Street, where the cameras are rolling, are far from happy. “It is an ethnically diverse street where the majority of residents were not born in the UK,” reads the promo. “The series will explore how the changing population is shaping the community, relationships, friendships and everyday life for those who call it home.”
Those everyday folk (“‘Ampshire born and ‘Ampshire bred”) as they say, paid a visit to the Channel 4 offices in London at the weekend, handing in 1,000 signatures protesting against the way their community is being portrayed.
Protestor Mohammed Ansar, a broadcaster and activist who has lived in the Southampton area for 20 years, said: “Southampton is a tolerant community where we see immigrant communities and the indigenous British population working and standing shoulder to shoulder.
“The rise of the far right in the UK and across Europe is due to prejudice and hate and an irresponsible media is creating and feeding this.”
The company that is making the series, Love Productions, has a track record of sensationalizing issues, say local residents: “No doubt Channel 4 is hoping that by choosing another explosive topic it will see the same sort of rating’s boost,” Southamptonian Rowenna Davis wrote in a blog back in September.
“Walking down Derby Road yesterday, I met a group of Asian teenagers who live there and in the surrounding streets. Without exception, they were all born in the UK and none of them considered themselves migrants. Why should they, when they were born and bred here and have Southampton accents? You only have to meet a few residents in Derby Road to realise that a huge proportion are second-generation citizens, which seems at odds with the show’s title.”
Councillor Satvir Kaur, who grew up in the area, said: "Just like me, the majority of people who live in Derby Road are not first generation immigrants. They will be second or third generation.
"This begs the question, at what point do me and my neighbours stop being classed or considered as immigrants and start being considered British?"
Derby street is described as a “tight-knit, know-your-neighbour kind of community” whose residents have come from Somalia, Jamaica, Pakistan, India, Canada and The Middle East for over four decades.
If the reception of the company’s first series, “Benefits Street” is anything to go by, Channel 4 will stir up a lot of debate, and not all of it intellectual.
For its part, Channel 4 says: "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."
Local resident Amanda feels the filming has been selective: “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.
She wasn’t interviewed for the programme. Perhaps because she’s a white Canadian?
“I also happen to be Muslim; I just don’t wear a hijab,” she smiled.