Streetfighters: what happened next. Maureen Walsh

I’ve been feeling bad for a long time about not being able to keep up my Streetfighters project in the way I’d like to, because although Housing Market Renewal has been discontinued, the story is far from over for many of the people I’ve met along the way. There are loose ends all over the north – householders trapped in derelict streets, projects put on hold by developers amid the recession, and tussles still going on over the future of some neighbourhoods which were earmarked for clearance and decanted. I never managed to secure funding to support this project so can only follow up people’s stories on an ad hoc basis, where I have time and can afford to do so. If I could do more and do it better, I certainly would.

Maureen and Terry Walsh were some of my favourite Streetfighters, and I’ve met them a number of times over the past five or so years. They spent seven years fighting to save their home and their neighbourhood from the bulldozers after Oldham Council announced plans to demolish hundreds of properties in Derker under its Housing Market Renewal scheme. When they finally admitted defeat in 2010 and began the process of purchasing another property, the rug was pulled from under them and acquisitions were stopped.

Terry died in January 2012, not long after they learned their home would be spared. It is a bittersweet victory for Maureen, whose community has vanished.

 

* Maureen also filled me in on the fate of a couple of other Derker residents who I have profiled for this project. Elijah, the war veteran in his 90s, moved into sheltered accommodation this year and his house has now been demolished. Joan Diggle recently moved into a new house near her brother in another part of Oldham.

Hear Maureen Walsh’s original interview

Joan Diggle’s interview

Elijah Debnam photofilm: A kick in the bricks 

Tinned up – streetfighters treads the boards

A few months ago playwright Chris Hoyle got in touch to ask me about my Streetfighters project, which he’d spotted while researching his latest project – a story set on a tinned-up condemned street in Salford.

Tinned Up hits the Lowry theatre in a month’s time – just a mile or so from Seedley and Langworthy, an area of Salford where I got to know a number of residents facing a similar fate (such as Jim and Nancy, on the book cover below). More about Chris’ play here.

If I took one thing away from the very inspiring Amnesty Media Awards earlier this week, it was the sense that I have not tried hard enough to find ways to continue with this project. I’m going to try and put that right.

Amnesty Media Awards – honourable mention

I had some cracking news today. I’ve been told by Amnesty International that my Streetfighters project has received an honourable mention in this year’s AI Media Awards, in the digital category.

What makes this even more exciting is that the three shortlisted projects are all by well-funded major news organisations. They are:

Iraq War Logs, Bureau Of Investigative Journalism

Middle East Protests, Guardian Live Blog

and Pakistan Drone Warfare, Channel 4

It’s exciting to be in such esteemed company.

The anatomy of a stitch-up

It’s an infuriating feeling to know you’ve been done over, and your hard work nabbed by other journalists. That’s what has happened to me, when my Streetfighters work caught the eye of a producer at the BBC.

In December I was contacted by a researcher on BBC One’s One Show. She told me the programme – a fluffy prime-time magazine show – was planning to cover the issue of Housing Market Renewal and that she wondered if I’d be up for fronting the report, since it’s something I’ve covered a lot:

I’ve no interest in working in TV and certainly no interest in dumbing these issues down for the One Show so said thanks but it wasn’t for me. Then she suggested that they’d quite like to use some of my material and that a producer was going to get in touch to have a chat:

I was still very skeptical but when the producer called she talked me into meeting her at BBC Manchester. When I arrived she had it all planned out and hit me with a pitch:

I still had doubts but this producer has the gift of the gab and convinced me that this would be a worthwhile thing to do, both for my own project’s profile and also to get this important story out to a wider audience. I agreed to get involved, against my better judgement. As it turns out I should have followed my gut instinct and run a mile.

The producer wanted to use my Streetfighters photos and three of my cases studies, which represented some of the different outcomes residents have experienced – an elderly man (Elijah) who doesn’t want to move from his home, a family who have been forced to go and left in debt, and a lady who is still living in limbo. These would be reshot in video and turned into a five-minute report, which I was led to believe I would get some credit for. I received a (small) payment for the use of images.

A few days later I spent a full day with her, both at BBC Manchester and visiting two of the three case studies to make initial introductions, losing a day of work/study.

From that point, for me, it went swiftly downhill. I went with the One Show people to Liverpool when they did their third interview a week or two later and felt like I shouldn’t be there. I was told they no longer wanted me to do the ‘comm’ (voiceover) and finished that day with the distinct feeling that I was being stitched up. My work was simply being lifted as a cheap, pre-researched story. When I asked the producer whether I’d be credited for my material, I  wasn’t surprised when she said no. Apparently the One Show ‘just doesn’t do that.’

The report

The report went out last Monday and was pretty much what I expected. INFURIATINGLY, the voiceover woman got the credit for ‘investigating’ the issue of regeneration.

One thing which isn’t shown in this clip (below) is the short discussion on the sofa afterwards with Gok Wan of all people. In it the presenters made an inexcusable error. They said Elijah’s home in Oldham was now safe from the bulldozers – which is completely untrue, and the report producer knows it as she and I had discussed it on the phone. Elijah’s home is technically owned by Oldham Council following a CPO and while other acquisitions are on hold, the authority is committed to getting and clearing all homes currently in the legal process, ie his.

Lame, lame, lame from top to bottom. I’m not impressed.

* I understand that at the BBC the number of executives and editors who get involved in current affairs reports can sometimes make them morph into something different from what was planned, but I don’t feel that’s what happened here. I also think the researcher – who I know a little, having worked with her in the past – had nothing to do with this. My complaint is not really about money, but more about receiving due credit for providing much of the content of this report.