BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific North Midlands/East West/South-West London/South North Midlands/East West/South-West London/South
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK: England  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 19:08 GMT 20:08 UK
Leicester's lesson in racial harmony
Belgrave Road
A large number of Asians live on Leicester's Belgrave Road
Leicester was deemed by some to be the most racist city in Britain 30 years ago but BBC News Online's Katie Osborne now finds it is a role model for places like Oldham, where racially motivated violence has erupted.

Manzoor Moghal, chairman of the Federation of Muslim Organisations in Leicester and a member of the Labour Party, attributes the turn-around in attitude to an atmosphere of dialogue, created in the city over a number of years.

He arrived there as an asylum seeker in 1972, having fled Idi Amin's infamous regime in Uganda.

He said: "Leicester was notorious as a racist city when I arrived and had been for many years, it was the most abominable place to live in the country.


We created an atmosphere for dialogue

Manzoor Moghal
Muslim leader

"It is a long story but it all began to change when we set up new structures and organisations, which were completely divorced from any party-political agenda.

"We created an atmosphere for dialogue and although the political parties were desperate for us to tag along with them we steadfastly refused."

The result was the creation of Britain's first-ever race relations council committee, which played a part in every aspect of council policy.

The committee, which straddled a broad political spectrum, enabled Mr Moghal and hundreds of other migrants to flourish in their host community by setting up successful businesses without fear of intimidation or prejudice.

The latest nationwide census is expected to show that by 2011 Leicester will become the first UK city where 50% of the population will hail from a non-white background.

These statistics, which 30 years ago may have been met with horror by city leaders, are now celebrated by all strands of society - the city is proud of its multi-cultural diversity.

Professor Richard Bonney, director of the Centre for the History of Religious and Political pluralism at the University of Leicester, says this turnaround in attitude is partly due to a long ,sustained effort in public education.

He remembers when the local newspaper, which now strives to reflect the city's cultural diversity, was placing advertisements in its editions telling immigrants not to come to Leicester.

Percentages of ethnic minorities
Leicester - 28.1%
Oldham - 13.25%
(figures based on 1991 census)
The National Front was active and racial tension was high in the 1970s, he says, but the city learned to embrace its rich cultural diversity.

He said: "It would be right to say that there is no single reason why Leicester has had more harmonious relations than other cities but it is certain that Leicester is now one of Europe's most diverse cities if not the most diverse.

"From the early 1970s onwards the city council took a lead in saying that racism was not acceptable and promoted Leicester as a welcoming city for everyone."

He said: "For example, it was a case of trying to teach people that building a mosque next to a church was not a threat but actually an asset to the city and seeing people in their national dress brought diversity rather than adversity."


Leicester is now one of Europe's most diverse cities if not the most diverse

Professor Richard Bonney
The city can boast two former Asian lord mayors, numerous Asian city councillors and one Asian MP, as well as a plethora of leading businessmen and woman from ethnic minorities.

Paul Winstone, a policy officer at Leicester City Council, said: "What has happened in Oldham over the past few days has been terrible.

"But Leicester is a city which has actually overcome the trauma of racial conflict.

"We had the National Front phenomena in the 1970s so what we are saying is we have been through it and we have come out the other side."

He added: "The proof is that today the Asian community in Leicester is well and truly established - economically with more than 1,500 companies, politically with 13 Asian city councillors and culturally with festivals such as Diwali which attracts more than 25,000 people to the city."

Groups such as the Inter-faith council, the city council's corporate equalities team, the Indian Workers Association and the Leicestershire Asian Business Association continue to promote good relations in Leicester.


The whole community has seen that diversity is a strength rather than a weakness

Steve White
headmaster
On another level, the Bishop of Leicester, Timothy Stevens, regularly meets with other religious leaders to discuss common points of interest, such as the asylum issue or the forthcoming general election.

Steve White, headmaster of Leicester's Rushey Mead School where 95% of his students are Asian, is about to take a party of schoolchildren (two white, two mixed-race and three Asian) to South Africa to participate in a world conference on tackling racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance.

He said such a trip would not take place were it not for years of investment into race relations by Leicester.

Mr White acknowledged that there had been problems and times where tough talking was needed.

"But the problems were thrashed out and as a result the whole community has seen that diversity is a strength rather than a weakness."

Bishop Stevens believes that Oldham's troubles should warn Leicester locals against complacency.


Click here to go to Leicester
Find out more about the violence in northern England during the summer of 2001


Background

TALKING POINT

FORUM

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more England stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more England stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes