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It is 10 years since the first episode of controversial documentary series Benefits Street aired, following the lives of residents of James Turner Street in Birmingham, where it was claimed 95% of householders did not work.

Benefits Street 10 years on - what has changed?
Benefits Street 10 years on – what has changed?

A decade on, residents reflect on the Channel 4 show.

It was 6 January 2014 when Benefits Street first hit UK screens. Watched by 4.3 million viewers, it also prompted hundreds of complaints to Ofcom.

It was marred by criticism from some viewers who were concerned about the negative portrayal of people on benefits and the depiction of criminal activity.

Benefits Street 10 years on - what has changed?
Benefits Street 10 years on – what has changed?

Despite the criticism, many of those who featured in the series became household names. Some even became celebrities in their own right.

Dee Kelly, aka White Dee, shot to fame during the show, going on to appear on Celebrity Big Brother and numerous television and chat show appearances.

A matriarchal figure on screen, she previously told the BBC her fame had come as a huge shock and insisted bosses had lied to residents about the nature of the programme.

But the show’s producers insisted it was a “fair and balanced observational documentary”.

Benefits Street 10 years on - what has changed?
Benefits Street 10 years on – what has changed?

Tom, who has lived on James Turner Street for more than a decade, didn’t feature in the programme. For most of the filming he was actually at work.

“I remember it,” he said about the programme. “I was working nights at the time and I avoided all of it, so it was perfect for me.”

“I remember they interviewed my friend who lived on the street, and because he’s also got a job – they edited him out,” he claimed.

Benefits Street 10 years on - what has changed?
Benefits Street 10 years on – what has changed?

Tom told BBC Radio WM he didn’t think the programme, made by Love Productions, was a fair representation of life on the street. Community spirit was strong, although many kept themselves to themselves.

“I just go to work and come home, that’s pretty much it,” he said.

Litter and graffiti on the street was a “problem,” he added.

“It’s got a reputation, and honestly you look around it’s not a nice place particularly is it, but I’ve not had any incidents myself so you know, it’s one of those.

“It’s a council estate, it’s what you get.”

At the time, the show was criticised by residents who felt they were misrepresented and portrayed in a bad light.

Benefits Street 10 years on - what has changed?
Benefits Street 10 years on – what has changed?

People living on the street today described the infamous road as “quieter” and “more of a community” 10 years on.

“Everyone gets up to go to work here,” one female resident said.

Having lived on James Turner Street for almost a decade, she has never watched the programme, but explained the street had been “fine” since she moved in.

“I do remember a lot about Benefits Street, so when we were moving I was asking mum, ‘are you sure you want to move there’?” she said.

She described her neighbours as “really friendly” adding they all looked after each other.

“Ever since I moved in here, it hasn’t been shown how I’ve heard about it.

“It’s way quieter than what people think it is.”

Benefits Street 10 years on - what has changed?
Benefits Street 10 years on – what has changed?

James Clarke, aka Fungi, featured prominently on the Channel 4 series. He died at his home in Kings Heath in 2019 after suffering a cardiac arrest.

Another series regular, Samora Roberts, known as “Black Dee” was jailed for seven years in 2016, after being found guilty of having live ammunition and of possessing drugs.

Jay, who has lived on James Turner Street for a few years now, said life was still the same except for a rise in the number of houses of multiple occupancy and an increase in residents for whom English is not their first language.

“But nothing’s really changed,” he told the BBC.

Benefits Street 10 years on - what has changed?
Benefits Street 10 years on – what has changed?

One of the area’s biggest success stories, however, is primary school Oasis Academy Foundry.

It lies on the corner of James Turner Street, opposite green space where fruit and vegetables are grown by pupils.

It had been judged as “inadequate” by Ofsted in 2012, but last year was rated as “outstanding” by inspectors.

The primary school and nursery made headlines in 2014 when it felt pupils were being “stigmatised” by the programme.

A James Turner Street road sign was later stolen from a wall outside the school, in an event described as “totally traumatising”.

Steve Chalke, head of Oasis, which runs the school, said the school’s transformation was down to sheer hard work of staff, pupils and support from the community.

Benefits Street 10 years on - what has changed?
Benefits Street 10 years on – what has changed?

He said the first episode of the programme “tore the heart out” of the community.

But he praised people for coming together to support others throughout difficult times.

“Every cloud, however dark it was, and it was – a dark cloud has a silver line in it, and the silver lining was that this resilient community stood up together to say, this isn’t true of us, and we’re going to work together,” he said.

“The school is outstanding and the street is a real community again.

“But none of that is credit to Love Productions or to Channel 4.”

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