OK hands up, who watches Channel 4 news? If you don’t here’s the low down (or at least a summary of the bit relevant to this blog.)
One of the key presenters has been travelling about on a bike, going to various parts of the country and talking about issues that are important in the up and coming 2015 election. Recently Krishnan visited his old stomping ground – and my hometown of Nelson, Lancashire.
If we are going to be specific, I’m from Brierfield, which (and some people will hate me for saying this) is typically seen as being the smaller cousin of Nelson; with less shops and more immigration. Though as you can see on this artfully snipped google map, there really isn’t much distance between the two towns and if you need anything more than the co-op, people in Brierfield tend to head to Nelson.
Krishnan had come to this humble town to discuss immigration, as 40% of Nelson’s population are immigrants; most of from Asian backgrounds, though recently there has been an influx of Polish nationals.
Krishnan talked about how when he lived in one of the small villages around Nelson, almost twenty years ago, his family was “the only Asians in the village” and suggested that not much had changed since he had left. He then went on to speak to a selected group of people.
During the report words such as ‘ghettoised’ ‘segregated’ and ‘white flight’ were banded around. Although some people tried to paint a more positive picture, noting how community hubs had now opened etc, the overall picture wasn’t positive.
There were a few token characters thrown in for good measure, such as the elderly middle class white man suggesting the reason for segregation was that the Asian community had not joined his local golf club. Because god forbid people talk outside of a golf club.
But stereotypes that were included for TV aside, was the news right?
Nelson is undeniably a poor town; there is no point in arguing that fact. A lot of the ‘big name’ stores are pulling out of the shopping centre (here’s looking at you Superdrug) and being replaced by cheaper, less well known stores. The average house price for Nelson in just under £60,000 compared to a national average of around £250,000.
But I feel that labelling the town as ghettoised is taking things quite a bit too far. Ghettos are impoverished, but I doubt they harbour the same community spirit as Nelson and Brierfield; both of which have active Facebook groups dedicated to bringing about and highlighting the good parts of the town, regular festivals celebrating vintage items and craft fairs.
Just this week a stranger knocked on the door to inform us our house was on fire (FYI it wasn’t we’d just lit the log-burner open fire) he had already called the fire brigade. So we had a bit of awkward explaining and reassuring to do, both to the chap and the fire fighters who turned up blue-lights-a-flashing. I don’t know about you – but that doesn’t feel like a ghetto thug life to me.
Taking of community spirit; one issue raised was that the town is segregated. People of different origins mix at work or college, but don’t mingle outside of it. In my area we are quite lucky, we swap food and presents with the neighbours to celebrate Christmas and Eid respectively. When the switching on of Brierfield’s Christmas lights was threatened by bad weather, English, Asian, European, and everyone on between moved to the town hall. The tea was served in polystyrene soup dishes but the night was a success whether you traditionally celebrate Christmas or not.
One lady on the programme noted that due to language difficulties Eastern Europeans are sometimes reluctant to socially mix with their native neighbours. But if everything is friendly, as it seems to be when you walk the streets, is this an issue?
I don’t consider myself to be racist but if I was to move abroad, until I felt fully confident in my language skills I would probably want to hang out with ex-pats who shared my language and cultural references. Not because of race, but because of ease. Could it be argued that after a week at work some people don’t want to struggle and muddle along with a stranger, they just want an evening of easy conversation? Perhaps as time goes on for people who have moved here from Europe it will be easier, and less daunting to mix.
Another issue raised, regarding segregation was the theory of ‘White Flight’ where people of white heritage move out of an area as soon as other ethnicities move in. As I have never bought a house, or lived in a part of town where this has been seen as an issue, I don’t feel I have the right to comment.
I do feel that I can comment however, on a theory that one gentleman mentioned. He claimed it was not White Flight, but rather a Class Clearance. He argued that the same could be said of all ethnic communities – those that had done well financially were leaving, regardless the colour of their neighbours. This I can agree on. Every day people talk about wanting to leave due to the lack of “decent” houses, shops and generally everything that is on offer in more affluent neighbourhoods. It’s sad but true.
So was the news right? I think in this case, no. Yes Nelson (and Brierfield) could do with investment; yes there are high levels of immigration. But these are working class towns doing the best in bad times; they are not the racist, segregated ghettos potrayed.