‘TV show has made us look like scroungers’

Channel 5’s Mega Council Estate Next Door series sparks anger over its portrayal of ‘haves and have-nots’ living on neighbouring estates

Friday, 11th September 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Eileen Christie and Amanda Arnold

Cally residents Eileen Christie and Amanda Arnold say The Mega Council Estate Next Door is ‘unfair, unjust and just wrong’

STARS of a new fly-on-the-wall documentary called The Mega Council Estate Next Door have condemned Channel 5 for creating what they say is a “deplorable” depiction of their neighbourhood.

The first part of the series, which follows the lives of residents living either side of Caledonian Road, aired on Sunday, but it was viewed with horror by three of its main participants.

The programme is trailed as an exposure of the “glaring” differences between the “haves” in leafy Barnsbury and the “have-nots” on estates such as the Bemerton.

The producers said they wanted to show how those from lower socio-economic backgrounds could make up for their lack of financial resources with talent.

But Eileen Christie, Amanda Arnold and Lily-Jo Hughes, who are introduced as residents of the “Cally estates”, are furious with how they say their community has been portrayed, insisting it is “unfair, unjust and just wrong”.

Ms Christie, 61, who grew up around the Cally and brought up two children there, said: “People around here are really up in arms. It is deplorable.

“When they approached us they said they wanted people who have talent.

The Bemerton estate, which residents say is portrayed unfairly in the Channel 5 documentary. Photos: Channel 5

“They are not showing that. They are showing a really terrible side.”

She added: “They make it look like we are all scroungers, benefits cheats, drunks and the rest. We’re professionals, we’re all hard-working people.

“In one part of the show there’s a burnt-out car. Where did they find that? I’ve never seen anything like that here.”

The first episode followed the lives of Dave Elvis, an eccentric Cally character who dresses as Elvis Presley when he is out in public; AJ, a self-confessed alcoholic with a dog called “Smudge” which he allegedly bought with two cans of Kestrel lager; and Ms Hughes, who is a young model and singer looking to make an impact in the music industry.

Ms Christie said: “They wouldn’t tell us what the name of the programme was going to be. If they called it The Beautiful Barnsbury Next Door that would be all right. If they told me they were going to call it The Mega Council Estate Next Door I never would have said yes to being filmed.”

Ms Hughes, 21, said: “They kept trying to make me do different things that had nothing to do with my music, and I was having none of it.

“They wanted me and Eileen to go and look at million-pound houses.

“I said no. I knew they just wanted us to look like a bunch of poor council girls being jealous of fancy houses – which isn’t true.”

Amanda Arnold, 48, is due to appear in the upcoming episode to be aired on Sunday, which was previewed in this week’s show.

She said: “I am dreading what is going to be shown on Sunday.

“I take full responsibility for my naivety in taking part in this programme, however I am devastated that I am partly responsible for the diabolically, shameful and deceitful representation of a wonderful and supportive community.”

Residents named as Peter and Anthony represent the Barnsbury side of the story in the first episode as they complain about “monstrosity” new-builds blighting the views from “five-storey” period homes.

Ms Christie has made a complaint to the TV regulator Ofcom and said she is in the process of collecting signatures for a petition to get the studios to apologise for the show.

A spokeswoman for Channel 5 said: “The series shines a light on the rich tapestry of a very economically diverse part of the country by following the everyday stories of people across the board, celebrating the spirit, talents and sense of community of the people of Islington.”

She added: “Unfortunately, some storylines had to be abandoned when Covid-19 legislation was put in place that prevented any further filming, meaning we couldn’t see all of them reach a conclusion. We hope people will see the warmth, friendship and sense of community shining through both parts of the programme.”

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