BBC DIY SOS WTF?

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The construction of the Westway dual carriageway over North Ken. Photo by Laing (we think); from K & C Libraries Local Studies Archive, more at Old Notting Hill/North Kensington Facebook group 

“(The BBC) agreed to consult with the community on the tone of the programme before broadcast to ensure sensitivities are respected”

As you read this, the BBC DIY SOS Big Build team are hard at work, rapidly erecting a new boxing gym and community spaces at Bay 20 under the Westway dual carriageway. The project will be broadcast on BBC One across two programmes: one on the Dale Youth boxing gym which was destroyed in the Grenfell Tower fire, and one on the other spaces being created, which include a cafe and meeting rooms. The BBC identified the need for effective community spaces in North Kensington, and the Westway Trust, custodians of the land on behalf of the community, have gratefully accepted the free building. There has been much disquiet about the project, summed up in our previous article here.  Any project implemented by the state broadcaster BBC and the distrusted Westway Trust would inevitably be greeted with caution. But when the project has been inspired by the entirely preventable, man-made disaster at Grenfell, the stakes are raised further. It is not yet clear that the BBC has its heart or head in the right place to be bulldozing its way into the North Kensington community in the name of light entertainment. Read on… 

When we left off, and after much strenuous effort in North Kensington, the BBC had promised to delay broadcast so that it did not coincide with the year anniversary of the fire that killed 72 people. They also agreed to clarify the plans for management of Bay 20. 

Context

The key word in any serious journalism is context. “We’re not making Panorama” argue the DIY SOS producers, but we argue back that they have a duty to provide context so that the area is represented properly. Community representatives have supplied the Beeb with a surfeit of facts on Bay 20’s history, its place in the disenfranchisement of the community and the long struggle for a dignified and prosperous existence for those residing under the Westway.

A summary: Bay20 was previously used by Carnival Industrial Project as a vibrant community hub – members of the community have fond memories of using the space as a steel pan yard.  The space was closed abruptly by Westway Trust and the African-Caribbean community were not offered an alternative space under the Westway.  Instead, an art installation piece was commissioned in the space of Bay20, where it sat for two decades, to the bewilderment of the wider community.   

Bay 20 is a classic example of what has long occurred in North Kensington, where anything valuable must be built, or lobbied for, by the community. The land under the Westway should benefit the local population, but falls far short. Will the BBC show this as part of DIY SOS? Or will it stick closely to its usual triumph-in-adversity script?

The signs are not encouraging. In another meeting with members of the rebel alliance this week, the most one-sided conversation since…

…took place. The SOS producers voiced no willingness to include Bay 20’s history in their programme. They explained that the two Grenfell episodes will be of a “different scale” to anything they have broadcast before, both in terms of the scale of the construction, and the emotional importance of the ‘story’.

Unwilling?

Time after time, members of the community urged them to include North Kensington’s history as part of the programme, only to be met with indifference from the producers, who sat inscrutable, apparently unmoved by the intense suffering of the community. They offered literally nothing to reassure those present that they understand the issues at play.

The BBC DIY SOS Grenfell specials, involving the Westway Trust, were never likely to enjoy widespread community enthusiasm, but perhaps that was never a factor in the decision to go ahead with the filming and the collaboration. The fact that the programme is being made at all; that community space, rather than government space, is being used to rehouse services lost in the fire; that Prince William is able to appear in the programme to boost his own image; that the BBC have total editorial control…all these things are done deals.

But, despite the lack of transparency and community input so far, there is still plenty of scope for the creation of two programmes that honour North Kensington and are enriching and stimulating for the viewer. The BBC could still make something great for TV, even within the formulaic constraints of DIY SOS.

Whether they do will depend entirely on whether they have the wit to listen to the community and the will to represent North Kensington as it deserves to be represented. 

The contrast between the two sides at the tick box exercises, “listening exercises”  meetings could not be greater: passion and apathy. The BBC team will soon head back to Bristol to do with their hundreds of hours of footage what they will. But if they opt to omit the real story of Bay 20, the Westway and North Kensington, DIY SOS will be missing an opportunity to distinguish themselves and they will be betraying a community that has already been abandoned by the establishment. 

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Thanks to Maymuna

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