Residents of the estate where Netflix smash hit Top Boy was filmed say they’re proud to have appeared as extras in the new series – but insist that the real-world location is nothing like the crime-ridden, gangster-controlled flats depicted in the show.
The Samuda Estate on east London’s Isle of Dogs has been used as the show’s crime-ridden Summerhouse Estate since the show jumped from Channel 4 to the US streaming giant, with rapper Drake serving as an executive producer.
And while the real residents don’t mind it being used to depict the struggle between drug-dealing gangs and the ordinary people trying to make an honest living, they insist it is nothing like the gangster’s paradise seen on screen.
Residents on the estate were initially thrilled to see the stars from the show – such as Ashley Walters and grime rapper Kano – shooting scenes outside their front door; petting their dogs and taking selfies with their excited children during breaks.
Julie Hutchinson, 52, has lived on the estate for 16 years – and insists that the real-world setting of Summerhouse is nothing like that depicted on Netflix.
Julie Hutchinson, 52, lives at the entrance to the Samuda Estate that is used to film Netflix drama Top Boy. She claims residents have not benefited from the filming
Terry Wigzell, 36, with his son, also Terry, 10, has lived on the estate for four years. He says his four children missed out on the day trips laid on for families during filming
The Samuda estate is managed by the One Housing Group, which received money from Netflix to allow filming to take place
Ashley Walters as Dushane in Top Boy, which is filmed on the Isle of Dogs in East London
The Samuda estate in east London – recognisable to Top Boy fans as Summerhouse
The mother-of-three said: ‘My elder two kids watch the show – I’ve watched it but it’s all about drugs and streets and I’m not into all of that. I think it’s very far-fetched.
‘It’s not gang-infested here or anything. It’s not a fair reflection of this estate, but it’s not trying to be. It’s fictional.’
Top Boy has enjoyed huge critical success, with a 97 per cent score on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes – but locals on the Isle of Dogs say the estate is not seeing any positives despite disruptive filming.
Privately run estate management firm One Housing was paid an undisclosed amount of cash to allow the estate to be used, putting on trips to theme parks or the seaside for kids living on the estate, while locals were asked to be extras.
But residents claim spots on the trips quickly dried up, and that there has been no investment in the estate to better it for those who live there for real.
Ms Hutchison added: ‘I said I’d let my daughter go [to Legoland] but they said there wasn’t any places left.
‘I said, ‘How’s that fair? We live here on the estate’. Other kids who don’t live on this estate got to go.
‘All of a sudden, my granddaughter and daughter got a place on the trip to Legoland.
‘But One Housing must have got a lot of money and I don’t think that was good enough. They should have done more for the kids.’
Ms Hutchinson added that the estate is in disrepair, and complained about the fact that nothing much has changed since the show entered their lives.
She said residents on neighbouring estates had had work done on their gardens, which she believes may have been paid for out of One Housing’s Top Boy profits.
‘The estate is really run-down,’ Ms Hutchinson said. ‘They don’t do any work on it.
‘One Housing have benefitted from the filming, but not the people who actually live here. The people working on it were nice enough.
‘But the money was meant to go back to the residents, and I don’t think they’ve done that properly. They’ve done nothing for us.’
Other children and parents on the estate weren’t so lucky, and didn’t benefit at all from days out made possible by earnings from Top Boy.
Terry Wigzell’s four children were some of the unlucky youngsters who missed out.
The 34-year-old, who has disabilities, has lived on the estate for nearly four years but was unable to get any of his kids places on the outings paid for with the Top Boy money.
Locals say they are proud that their housing estate has been used as the setting of the Netflix smash-hit – but say its star power has not rubbed off on the location as they had hoped
The Samuda Estate has around 500 properties within its boundaries, according to housing association One Housing
Mr Wigzell, flanked by his ten-year-old son Terry Jr, says he thinks One Housing should have spent the money on something all the children on the estate could have been involved in.
‘I was here pretty much the whole time they were filming,’ he said.
‘I got to see the police raids and other scenes being filmed. It caused some residents a bit of trouble; they couldn’t park their cars and the kids couldn’t play out when they were filming.
‘It was exciting, it being on our estate. Even some of my mates got excited and they were buzzing to come and see some of the actors and that.
‘But we didn’t get told about any of the One Housing events. I think I got a call asking me what I think the money should be spent on.
‘I said, ‘I’ve got four kids so I’d like something for them to enjoy’. It was really hard to get on the trips. There was one to Legoland, another to Brighton.
‘There were quite a few but we couldn’t get on any of them. They were all filled up. Maybe they could have spent it on something all the kids could have done.
‘Top Boy is a really big thing. It was meant to be. But it hasn’t benefited us in any way.’
Some lucky fans even got cast as extras in the show, as film crews gathered outside their homes for around three months last summer.
Solange Albasini, 32, was invited and paid to be an extra on the show, but shares her friend Ms Hutchison’s disappointment that it didn’t do more to change the estate for the better.
On how she landed her role, the single mother-of-three said: ‘I saw them shooting and went up to the casting manager to ask if they needed any extras.
‘I told her I was a resident and she said, ‘That’s perfect; we like to have real residents involved’.
‘I saw myself on the first episode of the new series. It was crazy.
‘I was a big fan and have kept track of the show from the beginning.’
But on the benefits it brought to the community, Ms Albasini added: ‘They did arrange some outings but not everyone got to take advantage of them.’
Top Boy is an unflinching, ultra-violent drama about drug gangs and the communities they affect – and has received rave reviews from critics
A scene from the final season on Netflix, which premiered last week, shot on the Samuda Estate on the Isle of Dogs, East London
The Samuda estate is immediately recognisable as the real-world stand-in for Summerhouse – but locals say it is nothing like the fictional location
Barry – or Bazz – a retired demolition worker who called himself the ‘original Top Boy’ of the Samuda estate, says he has seen many famous faces, including Ray Winstone, filming TV shows and films on the estate down the years.
The 69-year-old father-of-three, who has lived in the area for around 40 years, said: ‘I know my grandchildren love Top Boy.
‘It’s good for the community having shows like that filmed here.
‘Lots of filming goes on around here. It’s never interfered with my life and the kids get to be extras.’
Previous seasons of Top Boy, which debuted on Channel 4 in 2011 and is set on the fictional Summerhouse Estate in Hackney, east London, were shot on the famous Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle.
But the series was later cancelled in 2014 and the Heygate Estate was felled a year later to make way for a new development.
The popular series was revived by Netflix in 2017, following interest and encouragement from Canadian rapper Drake, who became an executive producer on the show.
Searching for a replacement to reprise the role of the Summerhouse estate, the revived series were shot on the Samuda estate; becoming the new home for main characters Sully and Dushane.
Terry Wigzell says the filming of Top Boy ‘hasn’t benefited us in any way’ despite disruption to residents during filming
Canadian rapper Drake – seen here at the premiere of the first new season of Top Boy after it was revived by Netflix in 2019 – is an executive producer on the show
One Housing said it consulted with residents earlier this year on how they would like to see the Netflix dividend spent – a claim still contested by some of those living on the Samuda estate.
A spokesperson for the housing association said: ‘The funding we received for use of the Samuda estate to film Top Boy has contributed to the resident engagement, financial and community support services we offer.
‘It was important to us that we consulted residents at Samuda (around 500 properties) on how they would like to spend the funds.
‘Throughout January and February, we carried out numerous consultations including door knocking exercises, home visits, phone calls, freepost return surveys and approaching established community groups in the area, asking residents to share their ideas.
‘Hearing from them and understanding the current financial challenges faced, we have been able to offer days out that many had shared they were currently unable to experience, such as trips to theme parks during the summer holidays, visits to beaches and wellbeing activities.
‘We are working to ensure there are a variety of activities and trips available for residents of differing ages and interests, and are continuing to use every opportunity to ensure residents have their say so there is something for everyone.
‘All residents have been invited to the activities arranged so far, with posters placed around the estate sharing details and information on how to register interest.
‘Trips have been organised on a first come, first served basis at the moment but more activities are being arranged so everyone can have the opportunity to benefit from the funding received.
‘The feedback from residents we have received has been really positive and we’re looking forward to organising further events and activities in line with their wishes and brilliant ideas – such as fitness classes, community days, sign language lessons, musical performances and first aid courses.
‘Our Samuda residents are welcome to get in touch to share their ideas with our Resident Engagement team.’