On a grassy bank above Manchester Road in Huddersfield, in the thin shadow of a steeple, Zafar and Kalsoom Khan are renovating their vicarage and growing cabbages in the garden. They bought the grand stone house, a former Church of England property, in 2011. It is a monument to family progress. Mr Khan’s father came to Britain from Punjab, in Pakistan, in the early 1960s; Zafar was born in Glasgow 48 years ago, before his family moved to West Yorkshire in search of work and opportunity.
The vicarage is also a reminder of how, away from the noise of current debates about immigration, the children and grandchildren of postwar Commonwealth migrants are quietly getting on and moving to better houses in the suburbs. The Khans have prospered via their lettings business, which rents to a new generation of migrants: international students and workers from eastern Europe. “They are going through the same cycle we went through 30-40 years ago”, Mr Khan says.
The most recent census, in 2011, found that about one-fifth of Britons were first- or second-generation immigrants, roughly the same share as in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. Most of the UK’s net population growth can be accounted for by ethnic minorities. By 2051, people from “black and ethnic minority communities” could represent up to 30 per cent of Britain’s population, according to a 2014 report by Policy Exchange, a think-tank.
“It’s our time now,” Shakeel Shah says outside his luxury car dealership. The 34-year-old, who drives a bespoke Porsche, adds: “When it comes to cars, I put Huddersfield on the map; when people think Huddersfield, they think Shak.” Mr Shah’s brashness befits a purveyor of flash wheels — but also a British Asian who, when he visited a Ferrari showroom, was told there were no sales jobs. (He bought a red one.) “I watched my father’s and grandfather’s generations work 15-, 16-hour days waiting tables, working in factories and driving taxis. I need to take it to the next level.”
Huddersfield, according to Mehboob Khan, the former leader of Kirklees council, “has all the ingredients for a good, cohesive community”. Here, as in cities such as London, Manchester and Leeds, he says it is easier to see the general trend of minorities moving out from traditional, concentrated communities to less segregated, richer areas.
But if that is the rule, then Mehboob Khan suggests that a place such as Dewsbury might be the exception. He cites the former mill town 10 miles east of Huddersfield as evidence that “the idea of some communities living parallel lives is just as true in 2015 as it was in 2001”.
In Savile Town, an area of Dewsbury, more than nine in 10 residents identified as “Asian British” in the 2011 census. But if this is a “ghetto”, as a local estate agent suggests, then it is one with tidy gardens and big semi-detached homes. House prices are among the highest in Dewsbury, especially near the 4,000-capacity Markazi Masjid, a mosque and seminary. “The Kashmiris want to protect their way of life”, says Mohammed Razaq, a 59-year-old retiree. He suggests that, more than other British Asians, those of Kashmiri origin want to live together and keep links with ancestral towns. “We had to build a community from nothing,” after most of the textiles industry collapsed, he says.
For Nosheen Dad, a 25-year-old Labour council candidate, Dewsbury’s strong sense of community means that “I don’t think I’d ever want to leave”. She explains the demographics of Savile Town in practical terms: the desire to have Halal shops, mosques and Islamic schools nearby. Yet Ms Dad looks forward to the day when she can forget about labels. “I get confused when I fill out these forms — white British, Asian British, why can’t I just be British?”
But in his house in Savile Town, Khizar Iqbal, a former Conservative councillor, argues that the community has become too insular. “Community relations have gone backwards,” he says, blaming the local authority, which he claims has unfairly distributed money and authority to unaccountable community leaders. “Britain has given my family the opportunity to advance,” he adds, “but political correctness has prevented integration.”
“This is a town that needs some love,” says Paula Sherriff, the Labour candidate for parliament. Nearly a third of its residents live in one of the UK’s most deprived areas; poverty, health, crime and education are worse than regional and national averages. Forty-two per cent of residents “consider there is a problem of race”, according to a 2010 council plan. Pessimism is common. “What town can’t even keep a McDonald’s?” asks the estate agent. Middle-class whites are moving to nearby villages, she says.
Similar sentiments are expressed more violently in the Crown Pub in Chickenley, a poor, mostly white area near to Savile Town. “We feel like it’s not our country any more, like we’re the spots in the domino,” says Michael Brook, 26. He believes immigrants receive preferential access to social housing. He claims that recent cases of child sexual exploitation in Yorkshire have been underplayed in the media because the victims were white girls and the perpetrators British Asian men.
A 2014 study by the University of Huddersfield found that Dewsbury residents are much more negative about their town than people in Huddersfield are about theirs. This is partly due to its “external stigma”, the report observed. The ringleader of the July 7, 2005 London Tube and bus bombings moved to Dewsbury from Batley about a year before the attack. The town was also the scene of the kidnapping in 2008 of Shannon Matthews, a nine-year-old girl whose disappearance became a major national news story.
The study emphasised the role that economic conditions play in “community relations”. This chimes with broader research into cohesion suggesting that deprivation is more likely than diversity to explain why people say they have low levels of trust in each other. Mehboob Khan worries about a “perfect storm” of separate communities, struggling economies and public sector cuts.
Nevertheless, more than 50 years after migrants from South Asia first came to Yorkshire — commonly known as God’s own country to locals — arrivals continue to seek work in Dewsbury. “The Hungarians are on the bottom”, Robert Berki, 33, says. He explains that his compatriots who cannot speak English are taken advantage of by “gangsters”, often other Hungarians, who take cuts of their welfare benefits or pay cheques. Unlike Poles, he adds, Hungarians have few of their own job agencies.
Mr Berki wants to move to London but cannot afford it. “It’s very hard; we have no help, no friends, no family and most importantly there is the shame,” he says, at a local community centre where a group of Hungarian Christians gather weekly to pray and sing hymns. He translates a sermon: “Dear Holy One, we have very big problems, but I know that God loves us — even here.”
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