More than 100 villagers packed into Grassington Town Hall to fiercely debate controversial plans to give away a £300,000 dream house in a TV competition.
One by one, residents of the picturesque Dales village stood to give their views for and against London-based Studio Lambert’s eight-part series, called The Village.
Channel 4 will screen the “new kind of elimination series” in which people “move into a house in a beautiful rural village and the residents decide who they think is the right person to become a permanent member of their community and win the house”, says Studio Lambert.
The show’s executive producer, Jamie Isaacs, told the meeting: “We want to transform somebody’s life by giving them the opportunity to win a house in an inspirational community.”
He said more than 500 villages across the UK had been contacted about making a programme where contestants would have five days to tackle a number of jobs to assess their value to the village, highlighting skills, civic values and neighbourliness.
“We haven’t been turned down by any villages, although we’ve turned down 200,” he said. “We were at an advanced stage of negotiations with a village, but no property was available there.”
When asked to confirm whether filming would take place, Mr Isaacs said: “Yes, we are planning to come. We haven’t exchanged contracts on the house, but we have had an offer accepted. In many ways the decision has been made in my mind, but there are details to work out.”
He apologised to those who felt they had not been properly informed about the plans, saying: “We tried to be transparent and we’ve never gone to such lengths to communicate with people about a project.”
He said there had been “no back-door approach” and no one in Grassington had been paid to take part.
As residents took their turn to speak, many introduced themselves as “offcumdens” who had worked hard to be accepted.
One asked about the contestants’ selection process.
She said: “I’m an ‘offcumden’ who lives on the edge of the village. I live a very quiet life. I’ve heard you talk about a lot of generalities, but I’m more interested in this programme and who the major players are going to be.”
Mr Isaacs said the 12 participants would be “people who do not live in a small, inspirational community like Grassington”.
“We want to find people who aren’t on the property ladder,” he said. “As Grassington’s not really in a place that’s commutable, we’re looking for people with skills to offer the community.
“We want them to have a life here and we’d like them to have a plan, or the means to do something, like set up their own Business. We don’t want people with nothing to contribute, but we don’t want to take a job from anyone.”
One resident asked how Grassington would be portrayed on the show.
“I would portray Grassing-ton as it is – an aspirational community with a high standard of living and interesting characters,” said Mr Isaacs.
“It has to be a place that will charm the people taking part to want to come and live in the community. I want everybody in Britian to think, ‘I want to live in Grassington.’ Another resident asked: “What will happen to this village after? Grassington has its skeletons and I wouldn’t like to see the village split by this programme.”
Mr Isaacs said: “It is not our intention to disrupt the law and order of Grassington. Yes, there will be debate, but I don’t want people to fall out over this.
“We don’t meddle with people’s relationships by dropping a bomb on them. That’s not what we want or how we work. We don’t want unhappy people.”
Although Studio Lambert had support, there was also plenty of opposition.
“Why would we want this programme here?” asked resident David Phillips. “It will cheapen the village and I think it’s a waste of time.”
Another resident said: “It’s very fair to say that most of the village don’t want it.”
One woman said: “This is a village of 1,001 facets and culture. I warn you to be careful what is expressed on film.”
Supporters also made their feelings known.
“I’m an ‘offcumden’ who has lived here for 21 years,” said Maureen Chevin. “We were made to feel welcome. I hope people will look to the future and what this will mean to Grassington and the Dales. I hope we will make them (the winners) feel as welcome as people made me.”
Rosie Walmsley said: “I started the petition against this, but I have changed my mind. Let’s get our a**** into gear to make it look like a village people want to come to. We want it to look like the best village in Europe.”
Business owner Michael Wade said: “The people who have livelihoods in this village, my heart goes out to them. They need every ounce of business they can get.
“Studio Lambert is not out to wreck the community. I think we should trust them.”
Andy Barton said: “I’ve been very reassured. I’m looking forward to this. I think it’s going to be exciting and will support local businesses. I welcome you.”
Michael Rooze, chairman of Grassington Parish Council and meeting facilitator, said: “The politicians keep talking about broken communities, but this is a warm and welcoming community. Grassington could be a community that is a beacon for everyone to be proud of.”
Studio Lambert is now advertising for contestants.
“We will be filming for eight weeks from the end of August to the end of October, spending roughly one calendar week per show,” Mr Isaacs said. “There will be no live element and no feeds to websites. We’ll just be gathering material for editing.”
Mr Isaacs, who is the studio’s creative director, said his team was looking for a handful of strong local characters who would act as mentors to introduce people to the village.
He said he would like to get as many people as possible involved in voting people off the show, but had yet to “nail down” how it would work.
“We’ll always be available to engage people before, during and after production. We want our relationship to continue,” he said. “We do care about your community, but we also want to make exciting, grabby television.”