Sand, sea and shtreimels: BBC to air film on ‘pioneer’ Charedim of Canvey Island
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Sand, sea and shtreimels: BBC to air film on ‘pioneer’ Charedim of Canvey Island

Documentary will show how large Orthodox families priced out of London have started a new life on the Thames estuary island

A scene from the Promised Island 

Image credit: BBC/Spring Films/Laurie Sparham
A scene from the Promised Island Image credit: BBC/Spring Films/Laurie Sparham

A forthcoming BBC documentary on Tuesday night will show how strictly Orthodox “pioneer” Jews from north London have relocated to Canvey Island, one of the five most pro-Brexit wards in Britain.

The programme shows how the estuary town – known for its boy-racers, ‘Essex girls’ and support for UKIP – was chosen by large Charedi families priced out of traditionally Orthodox areas of London, such as Stamford Hill.

‘Canvey: The Promised Land’ tells the story of how, in the past year, one of Britain’s most private and religious groups, whose first language is Yiddish, moved into “the most English town in the UK” at the end of the A13.

The documentary makers follow the efforts of local sailor, restaurateur, raconteur, rock band manager and all-round personality Chris Fenwick to get the newcomers mixing.

His plan is to get 15 local Canvey Islanders and 15 Chasidic representatives to get to know one another, on the promise of “eating, drinking, making music and making conversation”.

Charedi families moving to Canvey tell the cameras that “the demand for houses in [Stamford Hill] is so great that people are taking houses in really bad condition, which is unfair”.

Amid fluttering St. George’s flags, the Islanders tell the cameras that they know Charedi Jews call Canvey ‘Stamford Hill-on-Sea,’ adding: “They’ve got their own religion, their own traditions. That’ll probably stop them mixing as much as what others would.”

A scene from the Promised Island
Image credit: BBC/Spring Films/Laurie Sparham

Chasidic landlords are busy buying the first Jews here houses in the town, as well as a school, synagogue and community centre, while in Stamford Hill, the cameras chart the reaction of Stamford Hill families being encouraged to make the move up beyond the marshes.

Joel Friedman, a former director at large Charedi charity Interlink Foundation, became one of the first seven families to move out to Canvey, and says: “One of the biggest challenges is persuading people to take the plunge.”

Currently, the small number of Orthodox families means that “everyone makes an order together” for kosher meat and fish, but Friedman said the growth of the community would be in phases.

The programme, which shows how Islanders come to terms with a people who “choose to distance themselves” and who “are used to being looked at,” airs on BBC One on Tuesday night.

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