Immigrants are a good thing!!

belgrave-road1
Belgrave Road, Leicester, UK during the annual Diwali celebrations.

It seems the current trend is to blame immigrants for everything. And Brexit for anything else.

I can only speak from personal experience, but here goes.

I’m thankful that I live in the UK and that I live in a multi-cultural city. This is because my city would not be the city it is without immigrants. My country would not be what it is without immigrants. I’m proud to say I live in Leicester, one of, if not the most racially diverse cities in the UK. In an article by the Mirror one road in Leicester was described as the most diverse high street in Britain. Shopkeepers from 23 different countries work on this road. It is called Narborough Road. A quote from the article “It is the world in microcosm, all these people, from all these different places, different cultures, living cheek by jowl, working with each other and living in harmony…” This road happens to be the road which I lived off of when I was young. This road has another remarkable story which I shall tell you about.

Narborough Road

Back in the early 70’s Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of 50,000 Asians who were British passport holders. (If you wish to read more about Idi Amin click here for the Wikipedia article). Some of these Asians ended up in Leicester. The road I lived on ran parallel to Narborough Road. Throughout the seventies there was an influx of Ugandan/Asian immigrants that made their homes on the same street. It started at the town end of the road and gradually filled up towards where I lived with my mother. As you would expect at this time, there was a lot of racial tension and lot’s of racial abuse towards these people that through no fault of their own ended up on our doorsteps, almost literally.

The lesser known story is that once these people moved into the area it began to flourish. These people had been successful business men and women in Uganda and now had to start over. And so they did. Strange country, strange people. Some didn’t speak English. But that did not stop them. Over a period of years many businesses grew and became bigger. Another quote from an article (here) “In Leicester, where many Ugandan Asians settled, their presence has transformed the city from a depressed and deprived East Midlands town. It is estimated they have created 30,000 jobs there. In the most affluent suburb of Oadby – or Load-by as locals call it – the residents are overwhelmingly Ugandan Asian.

Some 40 years on from this, Narborough Road is going through another evolution. It started when Poland became part of the EU in 2004. The Ugandan/Asians had moved their homes to other areas of the city, or moved to other cities. The Polish moved in. Now there are Eastern European shops down Narborough Road. Shops that sell things that the local Polish community are used to getting in their home land. More and more supermarkets are stocking Eastern European foods.

The Golden Mile

Some of you may know Belgrave Road/Melton Road. The Golden Mile as it is also known, because of all the jewellers shops. This is also in Leicester. Another article (here) explains the diversity of the Leicester population and talks about the Golden Mile. The Leicester Asian community makes up such a large and influential part of the city that it hosts it’s own Diwali celebrations, said to be the largest outside India!

As an aside, I should also say that Leicester also holds a Caribbean Carnival annually which is said to be the the third largest in the UK.

No vacancies, the remarkable part!

These areas, Narborough Road and Belgrave Road/Melton Road also have one other thing in common. And it’s quite a big thing. Do you notice when you walk through your town or city centre how many empty shops there are? Leicester has the same problem in the city centre. Whilst there is renewal, there just seems to be at least one, if not many more vacant shops on some streets in the city centre. Business rates and expensive leaseholds prevent smaller businesses taking them on. Larger businesses go to places like Fosse Park (one of the largest out-of-town shopping centres in the UK, owned by The Crown Estate). Narborough Road and the Belgrave Road/Melton Road areas have few if any vacant business premises. Leases are less expensive as it lays outside the city centre. And the locals are far more industrious and are prepared to work much longer hours than some would be happy to do.

Me, I’m proud to be from Leicester, even before Leicester City won the Premiership. Yes, familiarity breeds contempt. And yes, it’s not all roses. But it is what it is because all those years ago we allowed immigrants into our humble East Midlands city. Look what we have become!!

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