Birmingham & Black Country

Benefits Street: James Turner Street residents reflect on the show

Image caption One of the street signs has been taken by someone looking for a souvenir

Benefits Street, the controversial Channel 4 programme looking at the lives of residents of a street in Birmingham, sparked much debate about topics including life on benefits, drug-taking and shoplifting.

Now the final episode has been aired, Tom Richardson visited the street to see what some of the residents of the 99 houses thought of the series.

George Drummond, 82, has lived on James Turner Street since 1962.

The former bus driver said he was filmed at a local Caribbean Elders lunch by Love Productions, who made the show for Channel 4, but the footage was never aired.

Image caption George Drummond said he had been filmed but had not featured in the show

Mr Drummond said the show's creators had spent several hours with him at the lunch, but were "more concerned with showing the people on benefits".

"They were there for almost two hours talking to people from the community," he said.

"People were talking, playing dominoes, getting along.

"It was people working together with others in a positive way, but they didn't show it.

"All you got in the show was negativity," he said.

He added the show had opened his eyes to the number of benefits claimants in the area.

"What the show did do was highlight a number of things and bring them to the attention of lots of people," he said.

"Before the show I didn't realise how many in the street were on benefits.

"I hope the government departments were watching - they should review the system so people cannot abuse it anymore."

Image caption Anna Korzen's wedding was shown on the programme. She said she and her husband are still together and she is working full time as a carer

Anna Korzen, 28, who was shown getting married on the programme, said she thought the show's name was the reason it was controversial.

She spoke to the BBC after the first episode was broadcast on 8 January and said a lot of people had been angry because of the "bad image" portrayed.

But speaking again, six weeks later and after the series had been shown in full, she said: "It wasn't an unfair portrayal, but the name surprised us.

"I felt it showed the true life of people on the street, nobody told us what to do or directed us," she said.

The furore caused by the programme was such that residents of James Turner Street spoke of camera crews from Germany and other countries filming in the street, and even people living in Australia hearing about the show.

Mrs Korzen added that since Benefits Street aired James Turner Street had become a "tourist attraction".

"It's something we didn't have before," she said.

"There are people here from morning to night.

"It doesn't bother me too much, they will probably lose interest after a while."

Image caption Matt Weaver drove from Kidderminster in Worcestershire to see the street and meet the residents.
Image caption The missing James Turner Street sign. Residents think it has been taken by a souvenir hunter

One of the so-called tourists is Matt Weavers, 36, who drove from Kidderminster in the hope of meeting people from the show.

"I just came to meet the people," he said.

"I'm on benefits myself so I wanted to talk to some of the people about that.

"I didn't think it was an unfair portrayal of people on benefits though."

Another man, who did not want to be named, said he had driven 50 miles with his family to see the street and meet Deidre Kelly, known as "White Dee" on the show.

"We've come here from the other side of Worcester," he said.

"We just wanted to see it for ourselves, I'd like to speak to White Dee and maybe ask her for a cup of tea.

"I've seen her speak on TV so it would be interesting to talk to her."

But the tourists have not been popular with everyone. Mr Drummond is not happy that someone took one of the James Turner Street signs.

"I think someone must have taken it as a souvenir," he said.

Image caption Can James Turner Street return to normal after the show?

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