Preston: “Integration comes down to respect, respect for yourself and for everybody else”

Our final visit to the North West was to Preston in Lancashire. Here our citizens’ panel comprised those of white and Asian Muslim heritage. All of our Muslim participants had a recent family experience of migration and we interested to see how their views on immigration and integration differed from the white British participants. After the discussion got going, there were relatively few differences in views between the two groups. We also had one of the most thoughtful discussions about integration so far.

“I think integration comes down to respect, respect for yourself and for everybody else. Of their culture, of your culture, of who they are, of who you are. If you’re respectful to everyone, there’s never a problem, it’s when there’s a breakdown of respect on both parts then things don’t work.”

A boomtown of the Industrial Revolution, Pakistani migrants arrived in Preston after the Second World War to work in its factories. In the 2011 census 11% of Preston’s population identified as Muslim. More recently, the city has also seen the arrival of refugees, international students and migrants from the EU.

The textile mills on which much of Preston’s wealth was built have now closed. Like many parts of Lancashire, Preston has seen significant post-industrial decline. Plans for a new shopping centre fell through in 2011 and Preston hit rock bottom.  A visionary council appears to have reversed some of this decline and the university has also driven local regeneration.

Integration dominated the discussion in Preston. As with other towns and cities, new migrants have tended to move into areas where rental housing is cheap and available and this has led to residential segregation by faith and ethnicity. Unlike many other areas, all member of the Preston citizens’ panel saw how housing and wealth influence where people live and the social contact they have with different ethnic and faith groups.

“You’ve got the rich parts of Preston and then you’ve got the poor parts of Preston… if you live in the suburbs of Preston, you may not even have come across any of the immigrants”

Both the citizens’ panel and stakeholders did not feel that communities were as geographically and socially divided as in nearby Burnley, Oldham or Rochdale and that Preston was more “laid back”.  The English Defence League was ridiculed in 2016 by white and Asian Muslim residents after it labelled certain areas of Preston of ‘no go zones’, but residential segregation still influenced what people thought about each other.

“You hear certain people say ‘don’t go to this area’. It has a domino effect, going down the line, it’s like Chinese whispers going around. I think that could be detrimental to people wanting to get to know each other.”

The Preston citizens’ panel felt the divisions which motivated the riots of 2001 had not been fully addressed in Preston. There were still some anxieties and tensions between the white and Asian Muslim communities. But participants were able to debate this issue constructively.

“I think you get the negative side of that, which is no understanding different cultural aspects of certain sorts of people, so then in the pub and word spreads round and… say, where it’s one area is specifically mainly a white area, or a black area, it gets spread round, and people are afraid to integrate off the back of that. I think locally that has a really big knock on effect, massively.”

The citizens’ panel also described some of the initiatives that were being put in place to increase social contact between people of different backgrounds.

“A girl I work with, she set up a feed the homeless project. She is an Asian, but it’s not just for the Asians, but for the whole community. Everyone would come in, donates food for them, and they were feeding them at the market. It was not just about feeding Asians, it was about feeding the whole community, everybody getting together.”

The citizens’ panel also felt that schools were doing a good job to help pupils of different backgrounds mix and learn about each other. Preston, like Bradford, has a school linking programme, where students from predominantly Asian schools and predominantly white schools are brought together. While participants felt this was a good initiative, there was some scepticism that this type of initiative was addressing the symptoms not the cause:  “These school classes should have a healthy mix anyway, they shouldn’t have to go on a school trip to meet different people. It seems insane to me”.

Our visit to Preston affirmed that integration must be everybody issue that addresses all types of economic and social divisions – something we have written about previously. But it also showed there is a strong consensus that integration matters.

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