poverty porn on my doorstep

This month the BBC aired an “observed documentary series following the dramatic and often emotional highs and lows of daily life for six different families all living in one large housing scheme in Kilmarnock”

At first I was relieved when I found out the program wasn’t being aired in England ! ( thank goodness – what would people think … ?! ) but now I’ve had time to think about it. I have spoken to my parents and their friends, my peers and others on how they feel about it. I decided that writing this post was an important thing for me to do, for myself, my town and my family and friends who have been effected by the program. In a nutshell ( and this may sound dramatic but it’s how I feel ) I am writing this for Scotland because I am proud to be Scottish. How do people who live in The Scheme find hope?

I have lived in Kilmarnock all my life.  ‘The Scheme” in question is an area called Onthank and I went to Primary school there for two years ( see below for evidence )

One of the most special people in my life also went to school there and was brought up in Onthank. Paul wrote this letter to the BBC and has given me the go ahead to share it with you. He puts my feelings into words far better than I could:

“Having today heard the news that the final episodes of  BBC Scotlands ‘The Scheme’ has been postponed until further notice I have decided to register my anger, sadness and general confusion at both the programme in question and how it has been recieved. I had been waiting until all four episodes had been aired bfore making a judgement on the series as a whole but since that may not now happen I have been compelled to write now.

I will firstly admit that had this programme been set in Irvine or Paisley or even another part of Kilmarnock I may not be writing. I have spent my whole life living in and around the Onthank area. This is without question the main reason I have taken such personal offence to the programme. However as the dust has settled on the circus I have turned my thoughts to the wider social issues raised. It deeply concerns me that a show which has unquestionably exploited vulnerable people for entertainment has been received with such pleasure by some. I think this is partly indicative of society’s low expectations of entertainment. The ‘freak show’ mentality (see Big Brother, X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Jeremy Kyle) is now so rife amongst young people that this exploitation is now what is essential for good entertainment.

This saddens me hugely. I believe the media and the BBC in particular have a responsibility to uphold certain standards. I find it shameful that these standards have fallen so far that in order to gain ratings the best the British Broadcasting Corporation can conjure up is to have a camera following a herion addict and editing it to make him look like a Scottish version of Mr Bean. Well, Mr Bean was a character created for television. Marvin Baird is a human being. What will happen to him in 6 months time? What will happen to the wee girl from Onthank playing with a packet of condoms and being told she is a ‘mongo’? What happens to the baby Christopher Cunningham is having? What happens to my cousin? He lives with his mum and step dad who own their house and have worked all their lives on Morven Avenue. The heart of ‘The Scheme’. Will his family’s hard work and decent way of life be sneered at by some because of his address? The BBC certainly don’t care. But to hell with them. What worries me is that the people don’t.

There is deprivation in Kilmarnock. In fact when Johnnie Walkers closes its gates for the last time it will be the unemployment capital of Scotland. I work with 15-18 year olds who all have extra social and or financial difficulties. I am fighting against a current of knife crime, drugs, underage pregnancies and general social disorder. Trying to help these young people is not easy but is incredibly rewarding. Listening to their problems is part of the job. Now their problems are also mine. Not only because I get paid but because we , surely, have to at least try to help those worse off than ourselves. It is the life blood of a decent society.  How anyone can stand by laughing and pointing at real people’s problems makes me despair.

So if you are part of a Scheme fanclub on facebook or have bought a t-shirt quoting good old Marvin then I ask you to stop and consider these real people and countless others like them. You can turn your TV off. They cant turn their lives off.

Paul Montgomery
Learner Engagement Assistant
Widening Access and Participation”

It seems to be a hot topic for the media:

Exotic, extreme, engrossing – tune in to channel poverty

Scottish TV documentary on deprived estate has prompted police investigations, arrests and a raging media debate

Teenage star of ‘The Scheme’ is drug-smuggler

New BBC documentary The Scheme offers controversial look at life on Scottish housing estate

MSP hits out at ‘sleekit’ BBC over filming of The Scheme

And just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I arrived home this weekend to the headline: Marvin has been seen in Kilmarnock’s Burns Mall selling – of all things – autographed cigarettes.

Hopefully, we can use this program as a fuel for debate and conversation. These issues need to be discussed. There needs to be a national debate about this. It’s not going to go away. I was also moved by Joel Kotkin on being white & poor/skint in the UK .

To echo the words of fellow Scot and author Pat Kane …there is trouble brewing. This is a problem we have to all face together, as a nation – so where should we start?

Advertisements