Landlords fear TV cameras as housing returns to prime time

Landlords fear TV cameras as housing returns to prime time

As the national gaze falls on front-line housing staff again for the BBC One series ‘Neighbourhood Watched’, it has emerged that many housing associations rebuffed the opportunity to take part.

The successful documentary – which shows life in the raw for Britain’s housing officers and their tenants, tackling everything from anti-social behaviour to tenants stuck on the waiting list for a new home – airs again on Thursday for the start of the third series.

It features staff and tenants from Greater Manchester housing association New Charter Homes – which has been involved with the documentary series since the beginning – and City West Housing Trust in Salford.

Writing in next month’s 24housing magazine, David Rigby (pictured left), communications consultant and series adviser, said there were different ideas about finding landlords to participate but admits that although the production team had some interest, “we were rebuffed far more”.

“The reluctance of social landlords to take part interests me,” he says. “Most are happy to push press releases extolling their successes at a diminishing print media (particularly local newspapers). Many flee at the thought of television, especially without editorial control. Tony Powell, executive director of neighbourhoods at New Charter, told me most of his peers still think he is ‘brave’ to invite the cameras in. Yet most people get their news and information from television, the web and radio. Opinions are shaped here too, so our absence won’t help the housing cause.”

He said others were “wary that only the outrageous will be portrayed”. But he added that although editorial control is elsewhere, landlords can influence the programme content.

“The film directors don’t know the business (although they learn pretty quickly), so they rely on getting leads,” he said. “It’s a pity that the timing of tenancy changes and welfare reform didn’t allow us to show new housing at affordable rents or the effects on households of the bedroom tax. But I did have some themes which were absent from previous series. One issue which I was keen to find was hoarding, mainly because I thought this might uncover interesting joined-up work with other agencies. Ironically and unknown to us, other channels were making programmes on the subject which aired while we were filming.”

David Cummins, director of communities and neighbourhoods at City West, said he was the “most apprehensive” of the trust’s management team. He said: “I was confident their [staffs] ‘can-do’ attitude would come through, but concerned about vulnerable tenants being taken advantage of, perhaps a sensational approach to the programmes.”

He feels differently now, though. “The series isn’t rose-tinted, but it does remind you why you work in housing.”

Filmed between September 2011 and June 2012 by independent production company Raw Television, the programme will be shown every Thursday evening on BBC One at 10.35pm.

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Does Neighbourhood Watched reflect the reality of working in housing?