Newport: How does the connectivity of port cities shape attitudes to immigration?

Newport, a city on the Severn Estuary in South Wales was the National Conversation’s 41st stop. Our citizens’ panel, local residents including two newly arrived asylum seekers, saw Newport as a typical city where over many years migration had become a normal part of life.

“We had Italians coming over, Asians, people from the Commonwealth countries and they were all motivated and made the country the way it is. People work in a shop seven days a week and work twelve hours, they’re hard working people most of the people”.

Just 12 miles from Cardiff, Newport is the third largest conurbation Wales, a port which has welcomed layers of migration over many years, with the second largest population of foreign- born residents outside of Cardiff, at 12.5%. Newport’s docks and steelworks have attracted people from across the globe, with post-1945 arrivals including migrants from Ireland, Italy, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In more recent times Newport has seen the arrival if EU nationals and asylum-seekers who are accommodated in the city by the Home Office.

Our conversation in Newport was similar to those we have had in other port cities, such as Southampton.  Our citizens’ panel drew on this history of migration and stressed the economic contribution of migrants to the area. They also felt that Newport’s history as a port meant that diversity was not a new experience.

Positive social contact with migrants and minority groups is a factor that reduces misconceptions and prejudices. Anxieties about ‘outgroups’ are reduced by contact, breaking down barriers of difference. Areas which are geographically isolated, in remote areas or with poor transport links may become less outward looking, with their residents less exposed to people of difference backgrounds. While the difference in attitudes between core cities and rural areas has been well documented, port cities like Newport also have seen long histories of migration, which have influenced public attitudes. The stakeholders we met attested to this. They felt that community relations had improved in recent years. Economic investment in the city was seen to contribute towards this shift, as Newport has expanded into a “microcosm of Cardiff”.

Newport is also a well-connected, by rail and road, and is close to Cardiff. Both the citizens’ panel and the stakeholders contrasted attitudes to migration in Newport and Cardiff with the Welsh Valleys, characterised by close-knit communities that sometimes struggled to accommodate newcomers.

Our visit to Newport showed how connectivity can influence attitudes to immigration. We have previously discussed the importance of positive and meaningful social contact in building public trust in immigration. But connectivity is also important, too, something that the anthropologist Sandra Wallman argues in her book The Capability of Places. Wallman looks at how different neighbourhoods adapt to change. She argues that ‘open’ and connected communities that are characterised by good transport links and movement in and out of the area find it easier to adapt to absorb newcomers.

Such connectivity can be historic and frame the identity of the area. But it can also be mundane, such as good public transport links to other neighbourhoods, towns and cities. The immigration policy debate can be noisy and polarised and perhaps we neglect transport at our peril.

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