Newham pushes the boundaries of integration

The weekly ceremony he presides over as a local councillor is held in a stately reception room with gold-tassel curtains, twin British flags and bouquets of plastic flowers. Queen Elizabeth looks down from the wall while the welcoming sounds of a song specially recorded by local school children play over a sound system.“I don’t want to see that they just take the oath, take the passport and go away,” said a bemedalled Mr Sathianesan, fresh from minting 16 new British citizens from a collection of Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, a Somali and a Kazakh. “They should feel proud. They should understand our great values of this big family.”

Moments earlier, he had implored his newest family members to get to know their neighbours, tutored them in the history of the local football club West Ham and even asked them to support England’s cricket team. “The key word is integration,” said Mr Sathianesan, who came to Newham 32 years ago to flee the civil war in Sri Lanka.

Yet Britain’s ability to engineer such integration is increasingly in doubt. A long-awaited report published last week — the Casey review — accused the government of a “failure of collective, consistent and persistent will” in its aim to improve social cohesion. In particular, the report pointed to a worsening over the past decade of isolated, ghettoised communities.This seemed to confirm the frustration of many who voted in June to leave the EU, driven by fears about the country’s ability to cope with unprecedented immigration.Newham offers one example of how far newcomers have changed London, making parts of it alien to much of the rest of the country. Last year, 86 per cent of the borough’s births were to a foreign-born parent, well above a London average of 69 per cent — and that, in turn, was several times higher than the rest of the UK.

Newham’s high streets offer hints of its place as an arrivals hall to the world: there is an endless procession of money-changers, mobile phone shops and greengrocers. Travel agents tout cheap flights to Kingston in Jamaica, and Dakar while leaflets on a shop window advertising rooms to rent are scrawled in many of the 140 languages spoken in the borough.

“It was very, very white when I moved in here,” said Janet Williams, a Jamaican who has lived in Newham for more than 50 years. “I’ve seen the big changes.”Janet Williams, a Jamaican who has lived in Newham for more than 50 years, says she’s seen big changes in that time. ‘It was very, very white when I moved in here”

The waves of immigration — gaining strength in the 1960s — have been to the good, she says, creating a place that is so diverse that newcomers easily mingle with residents who may not have been there much longer.The scene on a Thursday morning at the Barking Road Community Centre appeared to bear her out: dozens of elderly residents — most from the Philippines, Africa and the Caribbean — were swaying in harmony at a dance class. There were howls of laughter. “Can you hear that?” asked Dellie Elsom, who came from the Philippines 16 years ago, when asked how people got along.

That is not an accident, according to Forhad Hussain, who grew up in Plaistow — Newham’s most diverse neighbourhood — and is now a local councillor. Rather, it is the fruits of a campaign over the past nine years to improve integration. It includes specifics, such as free English classes, but the broader strategy is to invest in public gardens, libraries, street parties and volunteering networks in the hope people will rub up against one another and some civic alchemy will occur.Mr Hussain explained. “If you can get people out of their homes and give them opportunities to know each other, that’s when you have integration.”As evidence of their success, the Labour-dominated council cites a raft of statistics, including high volunteering rates and a “liveability survey” showing that nine out of 10 residents say the borough is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together.

Mr Hussain has a less formal measure: London’s 2011 riots. While other immigrant neighbourhoods were aflame, “in Newham it was quiet”, he notes. “There was nothing going on.”But one Newham community is not integrated: the white British who once formed the borough’s core. Between the 2001 and 2011 censuses, the proportion of whites fell by half. In some wards, they accounted for just 4.8 per cent of the population.

“I’ve lived here all my life and I hate it,” said Iris, 83, waving a cane and gagging for emphasis. “It’s every colour but white,” she complained as a woman in a burka, palming a smartphone, wandered past on the East Ham high street.Asked why she had not moved out, like so many others, she barked: “You gotta have money to move, don’t you, darling?”Another woman, born in the Canning Town neighbourhood, agreed. “There’s too many people and not enough jobs,” she said, during a cigarette break in a trash-strewn alley. For that, she blamed the eastern Europeans — primarily Poles and Romanians — who are Newham’s most recent arrivals and a source of consternation even to some champions of diversity.

For Muhamad Naveed, a butcher who came from Pakistan 10 years ago, commerce may be the best way to ease integration. He used a quick tour of his display case to demonstrate how: there were smoked turkey legs and cow stomachs favoured by his black customers, the baby lambs for the Pakistanis and the baby chickens for the Indians.Muhamad Naveed, who came from Pakistan 10 years ago, in his butcher’s shop on East Ham high street “Everyone is here to make money,” he explained. “Everyone actually needs everyone.”

Asked about the departing whites, he shrugged. “Our people, wherever they go, the white British go from. They like quiet places.”

Thanks to the Financial Times for their Post:

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