Channel 4 Soap Hollyoaks is to explore the issue of radicalisation into far right extremism to raise awareness of a growing concern in parts of Britain.
As the Home Office increases funding into initiatives in major cities to counter anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic sentiments Hollyoaks will examine how far right extremists target, groom and operate.
The continuing drama has worked with a range of expert advisors and charities to bring the story to light.
Contributors that have worked with the research and story team include author Jamie Bartlett, whose book Radicals saw him shadow movements with extremist views.
On working with Hollyoaks Jamie said: “It’s vital that we get beyond the caricatures and understand the way extremists really operate.
“Often their appeal is about more than the ideology, playing on local dynamics, exploiting legitimate personal grievances or even just seeming to provide a purpose and meaning.
“We rarely see beyond the headlines into how radicalisation really plays out in people’s lives, so having the chance to see the storyline unfold slowly over time will help viewers understand the reality of these groups: why and how people end up getting sucked in.”
Hollyoaks also worked with EXIT UK which works with the Home Office to extricate people who have become involved in far right extremist groups.
A spokesperson said: “Exit UK welcomes Hollyoaks vision for using their platform to highlight the impact of extremism on individuals, families and broader society. We were pleased to offer our support and advice and praise the writing staff, actors and production crew for attempting to address such a difficult topic.
"All extremist groups, not just the far-right, exploit individuals and their weaknesses to further their agenda. As a society, we should not shy away from discussing and highlighting difficult issues such as far-right or any form of extremism.”
Ste’s journey to radicalisation into anti-Muslim views and his fight to then extricate himself will begin when stranger Jonny (Ray Quinn) arrives in the village next week.
Jonny has identified Ste (Kieron Richardson)as open to radicalisation as he is in the throes of a vendetta against the Maalik family after holding Dr Misbah Maalik (Harvey Virdi) responsible for his sister Tegan’s death and his business accidentally being burned down by Misbah’s son Imran.
Ste’s public derision of the Maaliks brings him to the attention of the group and unbeknown to Ste he becomes befriended by people with a bigger agenda, during a subtle process of considerable duration whereby initially Ste is completely unaware of Jonny's views.
Executive producer Bryan Kirkwood said: “From the research we carried out, we realised that in Ste Hay we had a character that was disenfranchised and vulnerable enough to be groomed into extreme views.
“The more we learned about how these groups operate and how insidious they are, the more passionate we became about telling this story, which is about how hate and fear can destroy communities.
“It’s also a modern story about protecting young people online who are susceptible to fake news, the echo chambers of the internet and the algorithms that can lead people, in this case our much- loved character Ste down a rabbit hole into a terrifying world.
“This story will show how this can happen and how difficult it can be then to escape from.
“We have a proud history of exploring hard-hitting issues like self-harm and sexual abuse at 6.30pm.
“In the same way we hope to engage people in an issue they may not have previously been aware of.”
Actor Harvey Virdi, who plays Misbah Maalik, said: “Hollyoaks is taking a bold step to highlight racism from far right extremism.
“We can make people aware of the far right preying on the vulnerable and manipulating them in to being radicalised. I am glad to be involved in such an important issue.”
Kieron Richardson, who plays Ste, said: “After many years of love stories and heartbreak, which has left the character feeling vulnerable and at times isolated, it’s very believable for Ste to be receptive to people who might not have his best interests at heart.
“At first, hearing this story, I was unaware of what radicalisation was or meant and after a lot of eye opening research I'm nervous and honoured but most of all excited for this very different soap story to be told by our gutsy amazing team and hugely talented new scene partner Ray Quinn...”
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C4 will provide programme support around the episodes.
Home office figures:
The number of suspected far-right extremists referred to the Prevent anti-radicalisation programme has increased by more than a quarter, new figures show, as the number of Islamists falls.
Of the total 6,093 people referred in the year to March 2017, 61 per cent (3,704) had raised concern about Islamist extremism, and 16 per cent (943) over far-right extremism.
More than 1,600 children under the age of 15 were flagged as a risk, as well as 1,800 between the ages of 15 and 20 – the largest age group represented.