‘An English Estate’ and other films by Hugh Kelly
Film Show and Discussion
12.30 – 2.30, Wednesday 24 June 2015, The Meadows, Waterville Road, North Shields
Blog post written by Hugh Kelly, Swingbridge Media
I really appreciated this opportunity to screen my three Meadowell films. Extracts were shown from: Good News to the Poor (Church Action on Poverty, 1991); An English Estate (Channel Four, 1992) and Poverty – Its a Crime (Cedarwood Project, 2001).
The screening was unique because film showings are often only organised around single film launches and it was fascinating to see the cumulative portrait of many people from the same area talking about their struggle of poverty amongst a mixed story of public housing provision.
As the films were watched, many local people were keen to point out who they knew, often from thirty five years ago. Nancy Peters, a long standing Meadowell community activist, and who has sadly recently died, was one of the residents who featured in all three films. As the community filmmaker who took the perspective of making films that look with people and not at them, then these three films still succeeded in explaining what was going on in explicit terms but also in ways that were not judgemental and reflected the different views and tensions that can coexist. I had forgotten how the poor the Meadowell housing environment was in 1991, and even though we filmed just for one day, we still managed to show the scale of the physical degradation. It was also useful to reflect of the contrasting ambitions of the programmes and the underlying theories of change.
The first clip from Good News to the Poor (1991), a 30 minute programme was very much in the style of a campaigning video, where experiences of poverty and testimony are set alongside an analysis of the problems of structural inequality. Change was set within what could be achieved by Church Action on Poverty in its campaigning role, part of the role of the film was to create cross community awareness of the effects of poverty.
Our Channel Four film, An English Estate (1992) was directly commissioned as response to a proposal we wrote after the first film, but as we had witnessed a media frenzy following on from the riots in September 1991, we suggested a more considered analysis from the communities point of view. We would avoid the crude shorthand that painted residents as either being Poor, Mad or Bad. This was also being articulated by the development of theories around the underclass that American sociologist Charles Murray was promoting. His view was to blame the individual for their poverty, and he expounded the concept of a culture of poverty. He was very keen on focussing on ‘deplorable behaviour’ and that included ‘committing crimes, having illegitimate children and not wanting to work’.
We saw our programme ‘An English Estate’ as an opportunity to counter these arguments that were having some influence in Government policy at the time. We got a sizable audience on first screening – well over a million and a half people watched – and it got a positive response from participants. I went out to the way to have a preview screening on the estate before broadcast – other programme makers would not do this. Impact – always hard to say – in the immediate period the local authority started working more effectively with residents and in the medium term the housing renewal investment changed the area.
There was a ten year gap and I was asked by the Cedarwood project to support three young people into an investigation of the impact of the regeneration changes and how young people rated their lives and needs.
Together we produced a film Poverty: It’s a Crime (2001). Tom Laws, Beverly Office and Wayne Ryder talked to young people in Scotswood & Byker, and contrasted their experiences with those of people from Jesmond and North Shields. Despite the money spent on physical improvements very little has changed for people themselves. Young people give their views on poverty, school, crime, drugs, CCTV and policing on the estates. Themes of making choices and taking responsibility are presented within ideas of what type of youth and community provision would work best for young people.
I have occasionally screened clips of the programme and have thought about how the overall structure needs some change – it would benefit from a re-edit. However, peoples comments appreciated how the young people addressed concerns around poverty and discussed policing styles and the impact on their lives – all of this in a direct style of address. The dialogue process within the film is very much about Tommy, Wayne and Beverly as 20 year olds talking with 15 year olds…and it’s in that dialogue space where experiences are clear, truthful and genuinely from the inside. The estate visuals from 14 years ago look remarkably similar to today and people commented the same situations apply today.
A lot of concern was expressed about the lack of youth provision and consequences. I was struck by the conversations we had about how the young lads from 2001 had got on with their lives…most of them were now young family men with children…and well thought of across the estate. It will be interesting to talk to these young men now to compare and contrast their lives.
I have offered to run the screenings again and if we did so, help out on getting a bigger audience. I’d like to discuss what we could do with these films and how they might be more widely used for other community dialogues. Often regeneration processes don’t follow through and nurture the human relationships aspects of change. It might be an opportunity to extend some of these ‘people’ conversations into more purposeful learning about the impact of such schemes…and the role of community video in an active agent in community development and change.