Leicester: a city of diversity

Shivalaya temple, Belgrave Road, Leicester © Pippa Virdee, 2018

There has been a lot of interest in Leicester over the weekend, following the disturbances around Green Lane Road and Belgrave. I noticed on my Twitter feed that it was picked up by journalists, activists and academic across the globe and especially from those in India. They are of course keenly watching this because of the involvement of what seems to be groups aligned to the RSS and the ruling party in India, the BJP.

I have worked in the city for most of my professional life, I have family living in the area, and I have written about multicultural Leicester as well. There has been a lot of information and misinformation being circulated around via social media, this is inevitable given the way these platforms work. I know Green Lane Road well and the ways in which it has evolved since the 1980s, when I first went there. I will perhaps write about this another time, but I wanted to share some basic facts about multicultural Leicester, and provide a list of some academic work that has been done on the city.

The demographics of Leicester have changed and evolved considerably over the decades. Migration to Leicester was interestingly later than some of the surrounding cities in England. In 1972 the Leicester Mercury headlines expressed fear and concern about the influx of East African Asians into the city following their expulsion by Idi Amin in Uganda. Yet in 2001 when the Cantle Report on Community Cohesion was published, the local press in Leicester was considered ‘very responsible’ and ‘seen to be helping to promote cohesion throughout the community.’ Indeed, only very recently several events and exhibitions have been documenting and commemorating the 50 years since the Ugandan Asians arrived in Leicester.

 Area by Birth195119611971198119912001
India5691,82711,51018,23520,84124,677
Pakistan491097751,3051,1551,854
Bangladesh6851,051
East Africa181,6306,83518,62217,16818,843
Total6363,56619,80538,16239,16446,425
South Asian Migration into Leicester, 1951-2001 according to place of birth (Source: Bonney, 2003 and National Census)

However, as a city, Leicester is today one of the most diverse areas in the UK and perhaps even in Europe. The data from the 2021 census is not available yet, it is hoped more analysis and data will be released later this year. According to the 2011 census, the majority ethnic group is still white at 50.5%. However, the next largest group is of Indian origin – 93,335 (28.3%). The Pakistani population is still quite small at 8,067 (2.5%). However, overall there are more than 60,000 Muslims of different nationalities and ethnicities in Leicester, compared to 50,000 Hindus; the Sikh community is sizeable but small in comparison.

Religion20012011
Christian125,187106,872
Buddhist6381,224
Hindu41,24850,087
Jewish417295
Muslim30,88561,440
Sikh11,79614,457
Other religion1,1791,839
No religion48,78975,280
Religion not stated19,78218,345
Total279,921329,839
Religion in the 2001 and 2011 censuses in Leicester.

RankLanguageUsual residents aged 3+Proportion
1English228,29572.47%
2Gujarati36,34711.54%
3Punjabi7,5602.40%
4Polish6,1921.97%
5Urdu3,3761.07%
The top-5 languages spoken in Leicester according to the 2011 census.

Below are references for anyone interested in knowing more about migration to the UK and specifically Leicester.

  • Anwar, M., Between Two Cultures (London: Commission for Racial Equality, 1981)
  • Ballard, Roger (ed), Desh Pardesh The South Asian Presence in Britain (London: Hurst, 1994)
  • Bhachu, Parminder. Twice migrants: east African Sikh settlers in Britain. Vol. 31100. Tavistock Publications, 1985.
  • Bishop, Sue Zeleny. “Inner-city possibilities: using place and space to facilitate inter-ethnic dating and romance in 1960s–1980s Leicester.” Urban History (2021): 1-16.
  • Bonney, Richard, ‘Understanding and Celebrating Religious Diversity in Britain: A Case Study of Leicester since 1970 making comparison with Flushing, Queens County, New York City’, Encounters, 9, 2, 2003, pp 123-151
  • Bonney, Richard, and William Le Goff. “Leicester’s cultural diversity in the context of the British debate on multiculturalism.” International Journal of Diversity in Organisations, Communities and Nations 6, no. 6 (2007): 45-58.
  • Clayton, John. “Living the multicultural city: acceptance, belonging and young identities in the city of Leicester, England.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 35, no. 9 (2012): 1673-1693.
  • Gunn, Simon, and Colin Hyde. “Post-industrial place, multicultural space: the transformation of Leicester, c. 1970–1990.” International Journal of Regional and Local History 8, no. 2 (2013): 94-111.
  • Hassen, Inès, and Massimo Giovanardi. “The difference of ‘being diverse’: City branding and multiculturalism in the ‘Leicester Model’.” Cities 80 (2018): 45-52.
  • Herbert, Joanna, ‘Migration, Memory and Metaphor: Life Stories of South Asian in Leicester’ in Burrell, Kathy and Panayi, Panikos (eds.) Histories and memories: migrants and their history in Britain (London: Tauris Academic, 2006)
  • Herbert, Joanna, Negotiating Boundaries in the City: Migration, Ethnicity, and Gender in Britain (Aldershot, Ashgate, 2008)
  • Hussian, Asaf, Haq, Tim and Law, Bill, Introduction by R. Bonney Integrated Cities. Exploring the Cultural Development of Leicester, Leicester, Society for Inter-Cultural Understanding Leicester (University of Leicester, 2003)
  • Hussian, Asaf, Haq, Tim and Law, Bill, The Intercultural State: Citizenship and National Security (Contact Cultures, 2007)
  • Law and Haq, Belgrave Memories (Leicester: Contact Cultures, 2007)
  • Leicester City Council, The Diversity of Leicester – A Demographic Profile (Leicester City Council, 2008)
  • Mamdani, Mahmood, From Citizen to Refugee: Uganda Asians Come to Britain (London, Pinter Publishers, 1973)
  • Marret, Valerie, Immigrants Settling in the City (Leicester, Leicester University Press, 1989)
  • Martin, John and Singh, Gurharpal, Asian Leicester (Gloucestershire: Sutton, 2002)
  • Panayi, Panikos, ‘The Spicing up of English Provincial Life: The History of Curry in Leicester’ in Kershen, Anne J., Food in the Migrant Experience (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002)
  • Polimeni, Beniamino, and Theophilus Shittu. “Impact of migration on architecture and urban landscape: The case of Leicester.” DISEGNARECON 13, no. 25 (2020): 24-1.
  • Rex, John and Tomlinson, Sally, Colonial Immigrants in a British City: A Class Analysis (Routledge, 1979)
  • Sato, Kiyotaka. “Divisions among Sikh Communities in Britain and the Role of Caste System: A Case Study of Four Gurdwaras in Multi-Ethnic Leicester.” Journal of Punjab studies 19, no. 1 (2012).
  • Singh, Gurharpal, ‘Multiculturalism in Contemporary Britain: Reflections on the ‘Leicester Model’’, International Journal on Multicultural Societies, 5, 1, 2003, pp 40-54
  • Vertovec, Steve, ‘Multiculturalism, multi-Asian, multi-Muslim Leicester: dimensions of social complexity, ethnic organisation and local interface’, Innovations, 7, 3, 1994, pp. 259-76
  • Virdee, Pippa. “From the Belgrave Road to the Golden Mile: the transformation of Asians in Leicester.” (2009).
  • Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain. 400 Years of History (London: Pluto Press, 2002)
  • Westwood, Sallie, ‘Red Star over Leicester: racism, the politics of identity, and black youth in Britain’ pp101-116 in Werbner, Pnina and Anwar, Muhammad, Black and Ethnic Leaderships in Britain: The Cultural Dimensions of Political Action (Routledge, 1991)
  • Westwood, Sallie, All Day Everyday. Factory and family in the making of women’s lives (London: Pluto, 1984)
  • Williams, John, ‘Leicester Nirvana Fighting For a Better Future’ in Asians Can Play Football. A report from the Asians in Football Forum, (2005)
  • Wilson, Amrit, From Nagpur to Nairobi to Neasden – tracing global Hindutva, Vol 3, Issue 3, 2020 https://www.ihrc.org.uk/from-nagpur-to-nairobi-to-neasden-tracing-global-hindutva/
  • Winstone, Paul, ‘Managing a multi-ethnic and multicultural city in Europe: Leicester’, International Social Science Journal, 147, 1996, pp. 32-41

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