Culture

Make Britain Tolerant: Leicester Is British

What exactly is British? Winston Churchill? Cups of tea? Rain?

‘British’ means anything you want it to. I had hoped that too would be the message of Channel 4’s Make Leicester British documentary which aired on Monday night – yet it wasn’t to be.

From the introductory seconds, the programme started on with the anti-immigration attitude I quietly dreaded. Several clips positioned at the front of the documentary insinuated that Leicester had been conquered by settlers, that ‘British’ identity was being vanquished in the city and that Britons, white, black and Asian alike were all amalgamated in their derision of the new economic and crime scapegoats; the Eastern Europeans.

It appeared that the documentary was loaded from the start, with the ostensibly biased casting including an unemployed Somalian Muslim on benefits, a Polish woman whose very slight toil with the English language was opportunistically latched upon by the sensationalist eagles at Channel 4, and of course, two sympathetic White Britons who were not once publicised in a damaging light, unlike the other six participants. The programme went on to explore how these people could co-exist together, continually emphasising Leicester’s afflicted obligation to verify that multiculturalism is a feasible reality in modern Britain. The viewer was afforded a few moments of modest redemption in which the participants from diverse cultures were able to enrich the lives of the others with their alternative lifestyle. However, those peeps in to multiculturalism at work were habitually misplace in between the near single-mindedness on division, in which the documentary was even left on the note of two women of differing religions re-entering in to an irreconcilable conflict.

The researchers led the spectator to believe that Leicester is a city of tribal conflict, that citizens from every sub-culture were left fighting a silent war of acrimony on the city’s very streets. However, the real experiences of the people of Leicester generally rejected that opinion. In a small poll I ran on my social media page, 78% felt the show misrepresented the city and only 29% of Leicesterians felt there was any sort of ethnic tensions in the city whatsoever. In truth, growing up and living in Leicester is for many people a very heartening experience. It’s a city where Christmas and Diwali hold similar status in the eyes of the council and the locals alike. Growing up in the city’s suburbs, I was educated on the city’s varied population and given the opportunity to visit Gurdwaras, Hindu Temples, Churches, Synagogues and Mosques, all of which were hospitable, enlightening and crucially, integrated.

Regrettably, the tone of the piece is very much indicative of the climate of xenophobia that has spread across the country. As mentioned, the documentary was profoundly dependent on migrant typecasts such as immigrants being benefit thieves when in fact research shows the contrary. Immigrants are 45% less likely to claim benefits and recent settlers have made a net contribution of £25bn to the national tax fund; £8.8bn more than they withdrew, 26% of NHS doctors are foreign-born. The programme demonstrated an impassioned row with plenty of xenophobic rhetoric was – it seems the recipe for media viewership at the minute is to villainise and segregate the ‘other’. Yes, experiences within the city will fluctuate but any difficulties are few and far between.  The programme’s subservience to the far-right tabloid agenda was incredibly disheartening and particularly insulting to the wonderfully harmonious city that I call home.

It is thoroughly inappropriate for Channel 4 to stir the pot of neophobia with loaded titles that intimate a city is not authentically ‘British’. ‘British’ to me means tolerance, respect, diversity and equality. In those terms, Leicester is as prototypically ‘British’ as you can get. The same cannot be said for the British media, works like Make Leicester British continue to fail and insult the British public.

It always puzzles me as to what people’s issues are with immigrants. I want to close this post with what’s hopefully a sobering thought; your hometown, no matter where you live, is full of strangers. Why does it matter what ethnicity those strangers are?

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Leicester: England’s Forgotten City

I’m weirdly proud of my city. Most people up and down the British Isles don’t hold that strong a sense of local pride. Of course you hear people from places like Liverpool, Cornwall and Essex exerting their local pride but a proud ‘chisit’ is a rare sight to behold. Leicester often goes unnoticed on a national scale despite being one of the largest settlements in the United Kingdom. Many just see Leicester as a big town stuck between Birmingham and Nottingham, but it is so much more than that.

History… Leicester’s Roman remains

People had lived in the area for thousands of years, but Leicester began as a late Iron Age settlement set up by people from the Corieltauvi tribe. After the Romans fled British shores, the town’s urban function ceased to exist. Although listed as a city in medieval times, Leicester lost its city status for 800 years until 1919. Despite being one of Britain’s most important places for wealth, religion and trade, Leicester remained a borough. In spite of it’s lack of coal and iron, Leicester began it’s expansion and industrialisation in the 1700s.

Nowadays, Leicester is a superb example of a cross-cultural city owing to it’s large South Asian population. Despite this mix of ethnicity, culture and religion, little tension is experienced within the city between different groups. The city benefits from this influx of Asian culture in many ways such as; the locally known Golden mile on Belgrave Road, which provides some of the best curries in the country. Believe it or not, this obscure Midlands city boasts a lot of historical and social relevance. Leicester is home to the National Space Centre, one of the UK’s leading tourist attraction – I even know a family from San Diego who holidayed in Leicester for a week… really.

Picturesque… Bradgate Park in Summer.

Leicester is a massive sporting city too, being home to the biggest rugby union club in the country in Leicester Tigers, the oldest British basketball club in Leicester Riders, multiple time 20/20 champions in Leicestershire CCC and of course the mighty foxes, Leicester City.

The surrounding areas in Leicester are also stunning too, when you take in to account the charming county of Rutland, which if we’re honest is Leicestershire in all but name. The Charnwood area of the county is home to some of the best woodland areas for miles and home to the infamous Bradgate Park where the 9-day-Queen, Lady Jane Grey once lived.

National Treasure… Sir David Attenborough grew up in the city.

Leicester has actually been the home to many well-known names over the years. Famous ‘chisits’ include spud-flogger and England legend, Gary Lineker, as well as former City and England keeper, Peter Shilton. Successful band, Kasabian (who grew up a mile from my house), fashion expert Gok Wan (whose parents own my local chippy and Chinese takeaway). Engelbert Humperdinck, the Elephant man, Joseph Merrick, the world’s fattest man, Daniel Lambert and of course the legendary Attenborough brothers; David and Richard. You can even thank the city for the timeless classic that is ‘Return of the Mack’. Leicester is also famous for being the home of Walker’s crisps but many people are unaware that most of Britain’s beloved snacks are produced in the city or county, including Galaxy, Mars and Snickers in Ashby de la Zouch – you’re welcome.

The city also has its ties to the British monarchy due to the well publicised finding of Richard III’s body in late 2012. He was found buried in the Grey Friars area of the city following his death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 – the last King to die in battle. The Queen also personally chose Leicester as the first stop on her 2012 Diamond Jubilee tour and thanked the city for exceeding her expectations in welcoming her. The visit made such an impression on the locals that the council plans on opening a new complex called ‘Jubilee Square’ in the coming years.

To be clear, I’m under no disillusions. I realise Leicester will never be an iconic city of the world like Paris or New York but as far as Britain goes, Leicester, in my opinion is one of the best cities there is. Ask my Granddad – he’s compiled a comprehensive argument on why Leicester should actually be the country’s capital but that’s a different story altogether.

Interesting facts about Leicester

Rejuvenated… The city of Leicester.

  • Leicester is home to the biggest outdoor, covered market in Europe.
  • The city lies on the River Soar and on the edge of the National Forest.
  • With a total population of 329,600 Leicester is the tenth largest city in the United Kingdom.
  • As one of the oldest cities in England, with a history going back at least 2,000 years – Leicester appears in the Doomsday Book as “Ledecestre”.
  • BBC Radio Leicester was the first local BBC radio station.
  • Leicester has the largest economy in the East Midlands and one of the largest in the country.
  • Leicester hosts the largest Diwali celebrations outside of India, the largest comedy festival in the UK as well as annual Pride and Caribbean events.
  • Leicester was Britain’s first ‘Environment City’ and was singled out for special praise at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
  • The name for a person from Leicester is a ‘Leicesterian’ or ‘chisit’, the latter deriving from the locals of Skegness (a popular holiday destination for Leicesterians), who noticed that the phrase ‘how much is it?’ sounds like ‘I’m a chisit’ in a Leicester accent.
  • Leicester was the first place outside of London to have traffic lights and Tesco.
  • Experts have determined that Leicester is the birthplace of modern standard English.