A new Benefits Street-style reality show filmed on the streets of a Chelmsley Wood housing estate could make the area the laughing stock of Britain, despairing residents feared last night.
BBC camera crews shot People Like Us – a fly-on-the-wall series about larger-than-life council house tenants having “their own way of getting by and getting on” – in the Solihull suburb.
A previous series filmed in Manchester attracted more than 1,000 complaints after portraying tenants as “fat, drunk and destitute” and prompted demands for the BBC to cancel the show in the middle of its run.
Local councillor Chris Williams said: “They were looking for ‘larger than life characters who had a story to tell’.
“Our fear is that Chelmsley Wood is going to be laughed at.”
The first episode of the new four-part documentary will be aired on Wednesday, October 29.
The BBC said it aims to show “a vibrant group of residents – from young entrepreneurs and aspiring actors following their dreams, to young families getting on – who tell their own stories about what life is like in ‘The Wood’”.
Stars include ‘single mum and determined job hunter’ Sade – ‘a young single mum who dresses to impress and is determined to make a better life for her kids and find a career for herself’ – along with Mo, the ‘joking shopkeeper, bodybuilder and man about town’.
There are also sisters Becky and Louise, who are looking for love against the odds.
“I hope I am wrong, but I’m bracing myself,” Coun Williams (Green Party) said.
“When the production company were handing out leaflets earlier this year, they were looking for ‘larger than life characters’ who ‘had a story to tell.’
“From this, you can already see what type of programme this is going to be.
“Our fear is that they are just looking for people who make good TV and Chelmsley Wood is going to be laughed at.
“They have chosen a big council estate to focus on and we fear that the programme will be edited in such a way that it will paint the area in a very bad light.
“You have only got to look at what happened with the first series in Manchester – there was uproar among the local residents – and we don’t want the same to happen here.
“I have had one person tell me they are trying to apply for a job and worry how it is going to look when the employer sees where they live. There are also concerns about how the show will affect house prices.
“There are a lot of people in Chelmsley Wood who are trying to make a career for themselves and better their futures and we should be encouraging this.”
Coun Woods’ concerns are echoed by Coun Debbie Evans (UKIP, Kingshurst and Fordbridge), who said she is “not expecting great things” from the programme.
“My phone will be ringing off the hook when that first episode is aired, there is no doubt about that,” she told the Birmingham Mail.
“I am sick and tired of the north of the borough – Kinghurst, Chelmsley Wood and Smithswood – being given a bad name.
“Yes, we have our problems but so does everywhere else. There are pockets of deprivation in the south of the borough, but yet the focus always has to be on the north.
“I don’t believe this programme is going to do the borough any favours whatsoever.
“There are a lot of good things happening in the north of the borough but we never hear about them.”
Coun Karl Macnaughton (Green, Chelmsley Wood) agreed. “Our fear is that Chelmsley Wood is not going to be portrayed as the place it actually is,” he said. “I have knocked on many doors in Chelmsley Wood and spoken to a lot of people and I can honestly say they are the friendliest, kindest and most caring bunch.
“The end product remains to be seen but it would be a great shame if Chelmsley Wood is not shown in a positive light.”
Rev Neil Roberts, of Chelmsley Wood Baptist Church who is involved in community projects, said he turned down the producers’ offer to appear in the show.
“A lot of reality TV tends to focus on the negative or the most entertaining and we were just very wary.
“It sounds very distrusting but we work with a lot of vulnerable people and we would have had no control over the editing of this programme. They tend to be edited in such a way that they don’t portray people or places in the best of lights.
“There is a lot of work going on in Chelmsley Wood but we had no idea how this would be portrayed. There has been a group set up by local people to help refugees and asylum seekers. There are also a lot of groups set up for young people.”
No-one was immediately available for comment from the BBC.
The row has echoes of the controversy which followed the screening of Channel 4’s Benefits Street.
The show, recorded in James Turner Street, Winson Green, made a star of matriarch White Dee, who went on to appear in Celebrity Big Brother.
But other residents accused series producers Love Productions of painting false pictures of life in the road – and even devaluing house prices.
A spokeswoman for the BBC and production company Dragonfly said: “This is the second series of People Like Us and as viewers will see, it continues to feature a range of individual stories told from a personal perspective, following the day to day lives, both the ups and the downs, of a variety of people who live in Chelmsley Wood including parents, workers and budding entrepreneurs.”