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'A dark side to Hebden Bridge'

From Emma S

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

I've just heard on BBC One the trailer for the programme 'Inside Out' which is being shown on Monday 1st Nov, 7.30, BBC One.

Included in this programme is a segment on what was introduced as "A dark side to Hebden Bridge"..... Sky listings describes the programme thus: "Jamie Coulsen reports from Hebden Bridge, dubbed a 'drug town with a tourist problem'".

I assume this programme is going to be looking at Hebden in relation to the 'Shed Your Tears' film and possibly the subsequent media reporting.

I'll probably watch the programme if I'm at home so I'll reserve full judgement until then, but from the trailers for it it does look as if again Hebden is being singled out as having worse substance abuse problems than other areas, which statistically (as described on other threads in this Forum) is not the case.

Hebden is going to become unfairly stigmatised at this rate.

From Damian C

Thursday, 28 October 2010

I understand your view that there is a risk of misrepresentation, on the other hand they may well have a point. It's all a matter of perspective. Personally I think Hebden suffers from small provincial town syndrome.

From Anthony Rae

Thursday, 28 October 2010

After reading Emma S's posting I've sent the following message to Jamie Coulson at the BBC:

"Dear Jamie

News has reached Hebden Bridge of your impending television programme: 'Jamie Coulson reports from Hebden Bridge - which has been dubbed a 'drug town with a tourist problem'. He meets filmmaker Jez Lewis - who returns to where he grew up to find out why so many of the people he knew are in the grip of drink and drugs.'

Earlier this year the discussion forum on the town's very active community website spent a lot of time considering the accuracy of the media stereotyping that had resulted from articles in The Times and Independent - "So why does picture-postcard Hebden Bridge have one of the highest suicide rates in England?" and "Why has Hebden Bridge become suicide central?" - and debating the wider issues. The claims from those headlines were on subsequent investigation found to be not supported by evidence, and in the end the Press Complaints Commission required a correction from the Times.

I like many others will watch your programme out of genuine concern about the issue but, whatever its story and conclusions, I trust it will attain the standards of accurate and balanced reporting that we rightly expect from the BBC."

From Mark Piggott

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Since my "Lost Boys" article was published in the Times in February, I've read some of the responses at the hebdebridge.co.uk forum with anger, sadness and incredulity. Following reaction to my post at the forum on 8th February I vowed not to respond to any further criticisms levelled my way, particularly as most of them were made by people who chose to remain anonymous; how can you challenge the veracity of someone's "recollections" when you don't know who they are?

Later on, the debate seemed to be moving forward to discuss what can be done for young people in the area, which seemed a positive development. Even when those people who posted the most offensive comments claimed some sort of "victory" following the PCC's verdict, despite the fact it states that the figures available at the time of writing supported my article, I chose not to respond.

However, in the light of new comments on this forum, relating to the BBC's forthcoming "Inside Out" programme, many of them by people who continue to hide behind a veil of anonymity while attacking my professional integrity and the film by Jez Lewis, I've decided enough is enough; it's time to get a few things straight.

Here is my response.

From Anthony Rae

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Mark - since in your response you mention me by name let me quickly reply.

You say: "So how do Mr Barker, Mr Rae and "Mr H" arrive at the conclusion that I and/or the Times deliberately misled the public, and why do contributors to this forum continue to allege that I and Jez somehow "sexed up" what has happened in Hebden Bridge?"

As you, and anybody else on the forum can quickly check, I have never made that accusation or criticism about you; instead I explicitly stated the opposite: that I wasn't questioning the integrity, motives or professionalism of either yourself or Jez. My criticism, if it was that - actually I'm more just interested in what is the truth - related to the publishers (the two newspapers); as serious 'broadsheets' they have to be responsible for the information they print. And that's why it's important to remind the BBC of their obligations as well.

I also repeatedly referred to the seriousness of the issues you have raised, because if it is the case that Hebden Bridge has a suicide/drugs/drink cluster then we absolutely need to do something about it. So the figures do actually matter, don't they?

I'm sorry that in a response concerned about what you think is the misrepresentation of your position, you've misrepresented mine! I don't mind that (these things do happen) but I hope the irony doesn't escape you.

From Sutti H

Monday, 1 November 2010

I also feel I must respond to Mark.

I tried to read your new novel, or was it a reponse? I managed most of it and found my name mentioned.

I only tried to put my side of the story and yes my head was used as a football. I can't believe you didn't know about these things, you talk about being blind to things, maybe some of your mates were too close for you to walk away?

So at that time maybe some of us were in the real world whilst others were too drugged up to know what was going on.

I could name these people but what good would it do? I chose to forget about these times and move on until 2 people brought up the past and yes probably make money out of it.

From Greg Parkin

Monday, 1 November 2010

I just wanted to confirm that Mark is in fact a "local lad". I fail to remember if I knew him from Junior school or Calder High, but I do remember that he was ace at football!

And maybe an article or a film about Hebden Bridge's success stories would offer a balanced view of the Town?

From Sutti H

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Last nights 10 min story didn't do much for Hebdens reputation did it?
I guess you could find the same sort of group in most towns where there isn't much hope, low wages and lots of wealth behind the scenes.

I agree Hebden Bridge could have lots going for it, but it needs someone to grab it by the ba**s and decide what Hebden Bridge stands for and take normal people with it.

We don't need councilors that go from one group to another just offering waffle, we need leaders to actually make things happen.

From Paul D

Thursday, 4 November 2010

I don't think of myself as 'mysterious' but Mark's detailed response requires a comment, particularly his assertion that: "I have zero respect or time for people who post comments without identifying themselves". This is a bit rich coming from a member of a profession known to use 'off the record' sources as a matter of course, some of whose practitioners are not averse to hacking into private mobile phone messages, paying the police for information, even sifting through household waste to get their story. Journalism is built on anonymity Mark, from the brave undercover reporting of paramilitary activity, to the unreported sources of the story produced ? but perhaps some of these 'anonymous' comments really hurt.

My own concern was that by conflating very different life stories into a single narrative of 'lost boys' the piece served a journalistic purpose, but that's all it did. I saw no obituary to lost friends, just an over-writing of their individual complexities and the exclusion (purposeful or not) of other issues. But I accept that without this exposure, without the careful winnowing out of excess detail, then their lives and loss of life might not have merited much of a mention in the national press. So the issue is one of balance, should we be glad that the article at least drew attention to deep and apparently embedded problems, or should we worry that in the process tended to reduce these young men's lives to the manner of their deaths? Marks' right - we could agree on somewhere in between.

But this issue about the forum - is Hebweb a convenient screen for faceless critics to hide behind, or a useful correcting mechanism - a counterweight to hubris or excess in journalism or politics? As far as I know nobody is paid for their contribution and it's not often really rude or nasty, indeed Mark's piece was well reviewed, its strengths noted and its weaknesses explored. In that respect Hebweb (and even the odd anonymous contribution) might better be seen as a useful resource, adding to a debate rather than closing it down.

And if we want to move on to looking at success, I'd ignore the young men for now ? they were never really lost. The big story is the role of their mothers. We're getting too much Ted and too little Sylvia, and given the depth of literary talent that exists locally, I'd like to see women's stories being told, their almost brutal struggle to secure a future for their sons often in the face of indifference and against great odds. For example, a local mother, working for just above the minimum wage, told me through the tears she was desperately trying not to cry how she'd declined to contribute to one of these 'lost boy' things and then she told me of her hurt, her gut wrenching sickness, at having to go into work the next day, to face the world and all the time trying to keep an image in her mind of him as a boy, playing ? to counter any mental image of his death. All day at work with a picture in your head of your dead son as a five year old child, never letting go of the love. Or another local mother, who similarly worked every hour God sent and even provided the resources for her son to buy heroin that would be less adulterated, carefully helping him to combine his methadone, alcohol and heroin dependency and thus avoid overdose, keeping him alive in the sometimes vain hope that one day, with the right help, with the right people, he'd come good (he did). I'd like to see the women come to the foreground in some of these stories and less simplicity in the telling ? that's all really. It's all very 'male' and sensation seeking - where's the love?


From Mick Piggott

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Mark may not deign to reply to 'Paul D's comments but I will. And I'm proud to be partisan on this issue, as Mark's father.

The still-mysterious 'Paul D' thinks it's 'a bit rich' that Mark asserts that he 'has no respect or time for people who post comments without identifying themselves'. 'Paul D' then goes on to try to criticise Mark by association because of Mark's membership of a profession which 'Paul D' claims is 'built on anonymity' and which is known to use 'off the record' sources, and he even goes so far as to refer to the hacking of private phones etc. - as if this has anything to do with Mark's open and honest journalism. This is akin to condemning the whole legal profession because of the existence of a few bent lawyers!

'Paul D's criticism is rendered doubly perverse because Mark has not hidden behind a cloak of anonymity, unlike 'Paul D'. It is made triply so when 'Paul D' still insist on anonymity for himself!

In my view, and in all probability the public one, such pusillanimity destroys Paul D's own argument rather convincingly!

I don't know who you are, 'Paul D', and I don't care. I am Mick Piggott, Mark's proud dad.

From Paul D

Thursday, 4 November 2010

And I'm sure you have a lot to be proud of Mick, but I'd suggest that both you and your son should relax a little. Neither of you seem able to cope with an alternative perspective. I'm confortable in anonymity, I'm not a professional writer, nobody would pay for my work. A discussion forum, unlike the national media, allows for this. So if I point out that some individuals, not all, feel that he did a partial piece on some local young men that's OK - it's just my opinion.

Perhaps he should put in a FOI to Hebweb and 'out' everyone who disagrees with what he writes, print their names on his blog, send them spam or something, or just get a grip and see this form of mild dissent for what it is - a sign of rude health.

From Jenny B

Friday, 5 November 2010

Lest I be accused of making to hop upon the bandwaggon, and elect to remain anonymous in repsect of this particular debate. Can I first of all explain that I too, am comfortable in my cloak. To be allowed to contribute to a forum simply as a 'Hebdenite' is enough for me.

The hebweb editor does I presume, monitor posts and filter out the untruths, mischievous and cruel to the best of his/her ability. On the whole contributors to forums are allowed free speech whilst adhering to strict guidelines.

Mr Piggott Snr like any parent, seeks to defend his son and protect him from criticism. Unfortunately, in doing so he comes across as one 'who doth protest too much'. Mark's article received mixed reviews. I am sure that as a journalist, he will have produced articles that have similarly created a combination of praise and criticism.

As Paul D quite rightly states, he too is allowed his opinion. Mine shall remain a private opinion, and not because the likes of Mr Piggott will find my anonymous opinion less valid, but because like many Hebdenites of my generation I find it frustrating that we saw/know the broader story behind the article. Yet, any attempts to suggest that Mark would/should do too, are condemned.

From Sutti H

Monday, 8 November 2010

Well I'm very sorry but I can't match the last few posts. I do agree but can't match them with the use of words.

Mick, I can't see what difference a name makes, it's what I think. I will always try and be honest and probably will say things I shouldn't. I will always accept others will and can agree or disagree with me. That's what makes life worth living.

What I first complained to Mark about was the way he explained about his youth. He thought it was normal in Hebden to be under the influence of whatever drug or drink and have a good time. I was explaining there was another side to this good time and that was my head used as a football on one occasion.

I did forget about that time in my life until 2 people came along and brought the subject up again. I don't know if it will be directly or indirectly, but both these people will make some money out of their opinions.

If I'm wrong Mr Cameron will be very proud of them both.


From Jez Lewis

Monday, 8 November 2010

I'm trying to stay out of this but if, Sutti H, you mean that I am the other of the two people you mention, and that therefrore I will directly or indirectly get money from making my film, you are 100 % wrong and deeply insulting. I dealt with this explicitly and fully in my posts to Sutti N (same person?) in the 'Lost Boys of Hebden Bridge' thread back in February. I also offered to speak to Sutti N by phone or in person, but I heard nothing back.

I now offer to hand over to you all my profits, direct and indirect, from my film provided you first clear my directly incurred debts of around ?72,000. This is an absolutely genuine offer and I will cover all legal fees, just let me know.

From Sutti H

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

I'm very sorry Jez all I can do at the moment is point out my last comment. The last thing I want to do is disrespect anyone. Lack of respect is one of the main problems in Britain today as far as I'm concerned.

If there is something positive comes out of this for local people, and really it should be local lads because it seems to them reported on more than lasses, then I'm in full support of your reporting.

We all know we shouldn't expect an immediate return on any money invested, but come back in 10 years or so and tell me the same story. That's what I mean indirectly, if someone in the industry picks up on your film, likes it or likes your concerns etc you may get other work. I don't know? Do you think it has harmed your future chances of work?

From Paul D

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

I think the issue is not so much about cash profit, although I think I'm right in assuming that most films carry a loss for some time, Jez's comment assumes that his film will never contribute to the cost of its making - a bit hard to judge at the moment, a screening on BBC2 would turn in a handsome return, so making the comment now is a bit cheap in my view.

But both Jez and Mick are having to cope with the doubt, not an assertion, but a feeling, that they've 'cashed in' somehow. I don't personally feel that they have. Both have been creative in their use of the material, but not creative in a dishonest way, creative in seeking to make their respective works work. Both are local lads who, in search of a better future, have not abandoned Hebden, run away, ignored it - but were also not here when the 'lost boys' were jacking up, losing their jobs, losing friends, facing a bleaker future than the one they sought out. If we ignore the weakensses of their works, both (by absence) sort of came at this a bit late.

So what they've done is either good or less so, depending on your views, what I think gets up some people's noses, are the reactions to it. For exmample, (I wasn't there) after one of the screenings at the cinema, a member of the audience shouted out: "I blame the parents". Did they not know 'the parents' were sat right there? In the same cinema? Parents whose children were just as bright as Mark and Jez, who could have done just as well, but who'd been dead for some time - well done - rah rah rah and all that. Another local mother silenced by the bloody crowd.

From Jez Lewis

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Cheers, Sutti. Mr Cameron's shiny-faced approval is all the reward I crave! ;-)

But I don't think you know the film / documentary industry very well as you still misinterpret the situation. Ten years down the line I will still be ruing the cost of this film, and the opportunity cost of making it was massive. I turned down lots of other opportunities, and truth be told, the way to advance one's film career is not to spend two and a half years making a documentary about a small provincial town. I was not a newcomer hoping to get noticed to get other work. It's horrible to be saying all this in public, but I feel manoeuvered into it. And it's been so hard to get by that to have my motives publicly alleged to be financial just adds insult to injury. I'd still rather talk this through in private over a pint, and I still have a question I'd like to ask you in confidence (nothing very heavy, just something you've said has troubled me in a personal way).

Paul, thanks for your comments on this but you also misunderstand the economics of film-making. A BBC broadcast at this stage would be very welcome, but would only go a little way towards me paying off my debts (perhaps about 20 per cent - there are loads of media people in Hebden who can probably verify this). DVD sales may mitigate my losses to a very small extent.

Basically there is no financial incentive in documentary (factual entertainment like 'Wife Swap' is different). That's not to say all docs run at a loss - all our other projects have been healthy. But the money in film is in drama, not documentary. So as someone who had just produced a successful drama immediately before making Shed Your Tears, I was stepping away from money, not towards it.

Is any of this important? I think it's important that there is no sense that a film about real life has been skewed by financial incentives. This is one reason why it is standard not to pay people in documentaries, and no-one in Shed Your Tears was paid anything at all. I agree that critical review, dissent, etc are right and proper, but surely these should not be tainted - even undermined - by personal slights, or unfounded aspersions about motives.

I have been in Hebden often over the whole of the last twenty-five years, including while people were jacking up and all the rest of it. I witnessed and engaged with lots of things feeling something near to despair; but never actually despairing. I also tried hard to promote small businesses in and around the town during the years I freelanced for the DTI (e.g. case studies promoting Caldene Clothing and The Book Case). You both probably know people in Hebden who can vouch for this. I have not come at this a bit late, but been driven to it with loss after loss of friend, culminating in one so close I felt I could no longer hope it would just stop of its own accord (of the 18 people I have personally known die by suicide, alcohol or drugs, all but two were from Hebden - I imagine it's similar for yourselves).

In terms of the 'blaming the parents' comment, I was there and that was a misunderstanding (I have it on film). The mother was thankfully not silenced, but a number of people immediately took the speaker to task. She - courageously in my opinion - made a public apology a day or two later on Facebook (the film's Facebook page has over 2,000 'fans' and a year-long history of discussion with a very different tone to what tends to be written here). The person who made that comment is someone I have known and respected since I was seven (I expect you know her too), and the mother is one of the people I admire most. It was a very unfortunate moment, but they both quickly overcame it, as did pretty much everyone I've spoken to who was there.

The thing I've noticed on the HebWeb forum is that very few questions are asked (other than rhetorical ones); it usually seems to be statements issued by people often not actually in the know. Why? What's the reluctance to ask someone something? (That's not a rhetorical question!)

Sutti, Paul, I'm pretty convinced that we're chasing our own tails here. I reckon that if we just got chatting over a game of pool we'd get on very well. As always, I'm up for a phone chat or a pint, coffee, or whatever else (not Chamomile tea!) if you are.



From Sutti H

Thursday, 11 November 2010

If you read my comments through you will find I really disagreed with Mark rather than you.

There are parts of what you've done I don't agree with, but thats life. I have asked questions and admit I don't know the film industry. All I can go off is the word industry, that means the same to me what ever word is put in front of it.

I don't mind meeting you on your own anonymously, it will become more clear to you if or when we meet. Just find a way to do it. In a different part of Calderdale.


From Jez Lewis

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Very cloak and dagger! Okay, if you email me on web.jez@googlemail.com I'll try to get in touch next time I'm planning to come up. I don't mind emailing my question in the meantime anyway.

From Jonathan Timbers

Monday, 22 November 2010

What saddens me about this debate is that it's become so personalised and that it ignores the issue that Jez was trying to put back on the agenda: namely, the lives of people who find they aren't living in a 'great town'. There are persistent problems of marginalisation and social exclusion in Hebden Bridge which are not addressed by the town's public discourses and needs which are not served by its (often) expensive small shops with their esoteric/ luxury goods.

In simple terms, the dominant voices in town are middle class ones with a set of middle class concerns, which rarely address poverty (relative or absolute), disaffection, social exclusion etc. I was glad though that one contributor raised the issue of girls and young women who never seem to get a look in.

However, the lack of reliable data is an issue, both in relation to identifying the nature and extent of the problems and in discussing ways of tackling them. Nevertheless, if we really are 'a community' as opposed to a set of interest groups, we should be trying to help everyone in town get the most out of life and talking about how we could set about doing this. The first step may be for the town council to get a research project going to identify the issues and then to consult over the solutions.

I'll pass over Ian McMillan's poem about the town. He used to be a really good poet once who wrote about the lives of the people who do not feature in places like Hebden Bridge. He's clearly gone over to the 'dark side'.

From Colin C

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Well said indeed Jonathan.

There seems to be a bit of a blind spot about this, with the town's committed and energetic people preferring to discuss a more middle class agenda, stuff like windmills, the Town Hall, independent shopping, lack of organic kumquats in the Co-op etc, rather than choosing to look at this so called 'Dark Side'.

I'm aware that one of the reasons for this is a perception that Jez and his particular social group were somehow 'special cause', a blip on the social profile that were a product of a unique set of circumstances and aren't representative. So, it's been argued, whilst the individuals affected may need help, there isn't a larger underlying social problem to be addressed. As Jonathan has said, we haven't got reliable evidence to prove this one way or another and we could (and probably have) get caught in endless rounds of point scoring whilst trying to interpret the incomplete and patchy data that we do have.

However, I'd urge people to walk through Calder Holmes Park almost any evening. The next generation are there, usually on the benches by the skate park or in the shelter by the bridge. Most of them in their late teens, openly indulging in drugs and alcohol, not rowdy, not offensive, just a bit sad.

Perhaps Ian McMillan could have mentioned this?


See also:

HebWeb Forum: Under The Bridge/Shed Your Tears And Walk Away

Under the Bridge - YouTube

HebWeb News: Reviews of the film

HebWeb Forum: The Lost Boys of Hebden Bridge (Feb-May 2010)

The Times: The Lost Boys of Hebden Bridge (6 Feb 2010)

Independent on Sunday: Why has Hebden Bridge become suicide central? (1 Nov 2009)

FaceBook page: Shed Your Tears and Walk Away

HebWeb News: Shed Your Tears and Walk Away (Oct 2009)

HebWeb Forum: Shed Your Tears and Walk Away (Oct-Dec 2009)

HebWeb News: Let us not walk away. Let us walk together (Feb 2010)