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Rob on the road Friday, 1 November, 2002, 15:44 GMT
Business lights up
Rob Pittam visits a sari shop on the Belgrave Road in Leicester
Rob does some Diwali shopping
They call it the Golden Mile in Leicester.

The Belgrave Road which leads into the city centre from the north is a tiny piece of India in the heart of the English Midlands.

All along the road are curry houses, sari shops and specialists in Indian jewellery and foods.

This week it will be packed with 40,000 people celebrating the Hindu festival of Diwali.

The Leicester celebrations are the biggest outside India.

Lights up in Belgrave Road, Leicester
The Belgrave Road prepares for Diwali
To mark the occasion there will be fireworks and lights all along the Belgrave Road.

Bedrock

It's a remarkable statement of the vitality of the city's Asian community, which now forms the bedrock of much of Leicester's economy.

It began back in the 1960s as waves of Asian immigrants moved to the city, drawn by its booming textile factories.

Suraj Khandelwal has seen it all. His sari shop was the first Indian shop on the Belgrave Road.

"I opened in 1964," he told us. "People said I was mad and that it would never succeed. But business has just grown and grown and now there are hundreds of Asian shops all along the street."

Suraj Khandelwal, owner of Saree Mandir in Leicester
Suraj: "People said I was mad"
But Asian businesses have added more than curry to the city.

Many have moved into the mainstream and brought money back into Leicester.

A few doors from Suraj is Maz Mashru's portrait gallery.

Like so many of Leicester's business community, Maz is a Ugandan Asian.

He was working as a photojournalist in Uganda when Idi Amin took over. He was deemed as being too close to the previous regime and had to flee for his life.

When he came to Britain he found it impossible to get work as a journalist and instead took a job selling cameras.

Eventually he set up as a photographer and now has a booming business.

He's done portraits of some of the most famous politicians in Britain, from Jack Straw to Betty Boothroyd. His studio is one of the biggest portrait galleries in the country.

Entrepreneurs

The Ugandan Asians can make a strong claim to be some of the most successful economic migrants in the world.

They were largely middle class Indians who had travelled through the old British empire.

Maz Mashru with his camera
Maz owns one of the UK's biggest portrait galleries
Many were already successful entrepreneurs when they were expelled by Idi Amin.

Once they arrived in Britain they started again.

But although they are a vital part of the community now, at first they weren't welcomed.

In fact in a now notorious move, Leicester city council paid for adverts in Ugandan newspapers telling Asians not to come to the city.

But it has benefited enormously from its newcomers.

It's thought that such a strong network of family-owned small businesses has helped to cushion Leicester through many recessions.

Challenge

But despite the Diwali celebrations, there is some cause for concern.

colourful material
The textiles trade has played a key role
Many of those businesses were built up in the textile trade - the industry which has taken some of the biggest knocks from cheap imports.

Now money is being pumped back into the Belgrave area to try to retrain the people who live there and equip them with new skills.

But the spectacle and sheer size of Leicester's Diwali celebrations is a reminder that a community which arrived in the city empty-handed and set up hundreds of new businesses should be up to the challenge.

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