Mention immigration to locals in Boston and they generally mutter excuses and shuffle away, or give a smile and a polite shake of the head. Nobody, it seems, wants to be seen discussing the topic.
It is remarkable given how much this Lincolnshire town has been transformed by huge numbers of arrivals from eastern Europe in recent years that such a talking point elicits such pointed reticence.
Yet it effectively reinforces the impression many now have of a divided town and seething resentments.
“I have nowt to do with them,” one of the traders, an Englishman, hard at work in Boston’s central market square said, indicating the local immigrants wandering past. He, like so many others, who did not want to be named, highlighted an “us and them” attitude that many in the area feel.
“If you want to see the difference in this town, take a walk along West Street. They have got nearly all the shops along there now. People are bothered by immigration because of the size of the town. It’s ridiculous how many shops and supermarkets they have.”
According to the 2011 Census, Boston is now home to a higher proportion of eastern European immigrants than anywhere else in England and Wales: 10.6 per cent of the town’s population of 65,000 comes from one of the “new” EU countries such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia or Romania.
More concerning, it has now been named as the least integrated place in England and Wales by a Policy Exchange report.
To mark the launch of its new unit on Demography, Immigration and Integration, the think-tank analysed the most recent Census data to produce an inaugural Integration Index – a list of the best and worst places in the country from the point of view of integration.
The data examines “identity integration”, how minorities living in English and Welsh towns feel, and “structural integration”, how well minorities living in that area mix with other ethnic groups.
Boston finished bottom of 160 towns and cities with a minimum population of 20,000 and a minimum non-White British minority population of 15 per cent. Amersham, in Buckinghamshire, is the most integrated area.
A large proportion of the newsagents, hairdressers, fast-food joints and other shops on West Street and the surrounding lanes are run, or staffed at least, by immigrants. A Lithuanian woman who manages the European News newsagent was chatting with two friends when The Independent arrived. The pair quickly left when questions started being asked and it took some persuasion for her to speak – without giving her name, of course.
“We have few English customers, it’s mainly Polish, Russian or Lithuanian,” the woman in her 30s said.
“I’ve been here two years now and my daughter is in school. I studied English at Boston College and have a few English friends now also. We’re happy here,” she added.
Whether staff at the Moon Under Water, a Wetherspoon pub on the High Street, had an opinion or not, they were not allowed to speak.
A spokesman from the company’s head office said they had experienced “issues in the past” so would not allow any employee to talk, but we could speak to customers. However, that was quickly vetoed by the manager herself. “Er, she doesn’t want any trouble,” her colleague said.
People are well aware the town has an image problem. Boston Borough Council said it continued to work hard to meet the challenges that rapid population change has brought. “It is difficult to comment further without knowing more about how the Policy Exchange has arrived at its conclusions,” a spokesman said.
Just how different the ethnic make-up of the town has become is highlighted on the main doors of the impressive St Botolph’s Church, whose extraordinarily tall tower looms over the town. It may be closed for refurbishment, but the Reverend Alyson Buxton has made sure the information about reopening, on 10 February, has been printed in six languages – English, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian and Portuguese – so no one feels left out.
Others are also keen to do something about improving integration and the town’s image. Last month, the Boston Marathon was set up by Harish Kurup, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Pilgrim Hospital, with the support of Mayor Richard Austin.
“Our primary aim is to boost the image of the town, health promotion and for cultural integration of different groups,” Mr Kurup said of the event, on 17 April, which will also raise money for charity.
Boston and Skegness was one of Ukip’s top five target seats at the last general election. Although their share of the vote rose by almost 25 per cent, their candidate lost out to new Tory MP Matt Warman, who won with a majority of more than 4,000.
“People have to remember this report is based on 2011 data, so it doesn’t reflect the world of 2016,” said the MP.
“That said, we know that in all areas that have suffered large and rapid changes in population, challenges for community cohesion follow. That is why the town has really focused on how it deals with those challenges.”
10 things immigration has done for Britain
10 things immigration has done for Britain
1/10 The Mini
The 1959 classic, that is, perhaps our greatest piece of industrial design, a miracle of packaging and revolution in motoring. Its genius designer was Sir Alec Issigonis, who was an asylum seeker. His family, Greek, fled Smyrna when Turks invaded this borderland in around 1920, and he wound up studying engineering at Battersea Polytechnic. He went on to create that most English of motor cars, the Morris Minor, as well as the Austin-Morris 1100, all much loved products of his fertile imagination.
2/10 Marks and Spencer
Once upon a time there was no M&S in Britain, difficult as that may be to believe. We have one Michael Marks to thank for our most famous retailer, and he was a refugee from Belarus, arriving in England in about 1882, and soon after set off to flog stuff around Yorkshire. He eventually teamed with Thomas Spencer to create the vast business we know today.
And many other TV shows created, funded and otherwise produced by that largest of larger-than-life characters, Lew Grade (also a world class tap dancer). The man who dominated commercial television gave us memorable entertainment such as The Prisoner, the Saint and brought the Muppets to Britain (a sort of fuzzy felt wave of immigration), as well as puppet shows where you could see the strings. All this from a penniless Jew from Ukraine, born Lev Winogradsky, who escaped the pogroms in Ukraine with his family in the 1890s. His nephew Michael Grade has also done his bit for British television.
4/10 The House of Windsor
Or the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha until George V prudently rebranded the family during the First World War. Well, our royals are a pretty German bunch, as well as having various types of French and other alien blue blood coursing around their veins. ‘Twas ever thus. There was William the Conqueror, Norman French, who certainly broke the immigration rules; William of Orange, a direct import from Holland; the Hanoverian King Georges, the first barely able to speak English; Queen Victoria, who married a German, Edward VII, who couldn’t stay faithful to his wife, a Danish princess; George V wed another German princess; Edward VIII married an American (though she hardly visited England and prompted his emigration and exile); and the Queen is married to man born in Corfu. The embodiment of the British nation, to many, but one thinks of them as quite multicultural really.
5/10 I Vow To Thee My Country
Our most patriotic hymn was the product of a man named Gustav Holst (pictured), born in Cheltenham, but of varied Swedish, Latvian and German ancestry, who adapted part of his suite The Planets to put a particularly stirring and beautiful poem to music, just after the Great War. As the second verse has it, “there's another country/I've heard of long ago/Most dear to them that love her/most great to them that know”. Imagine if the Holst family had been kept out because the quota on musical European types had been reached.
6/10 Curry and Cobra
Chicken Tikka Masala is, so they say, a dish which not only the most popular in Britain but specifically designed to cater for European tastes. For that we probably have to thank an Indian migrant, Sake Dean Mahomed, who came from Bengal to open the first recognisable Indian restaurant, the magnificently named “Hindoostanee Coffee House”. History does not record if a plate of poppadoms and accompanying selection of pickles and yoghurts were routinely placed on the table for new diners, but we do know that we had to wait until 1989 to taste the ideal lager for a curry - Cobra. That brew was brought to us by Karan (now Lord) Bilimoria, a Cambridge law graduate who hailed from Hyderabad.
7/10 That big red swirly sculpture at the Olympic Park
Or Orbit, to give it its proper name, the work of Anish Kapoor, who arrived in 1973 from India and had the artistic imagination to fill a power station.
8/10 The Sun
Love it or hate it, and many do both, this has been a symbol of much that is successful and a lot that is awful in British journalism since its inception in 1969. In its turn it spawned the Page 3 Girl and some nastily xenophobic headlines. All the stranger when you consider its creator was, of course, Rupert Murdoch, born 11 March 1931 in Melbourne, Australia.
OK, Karl Marx’s philosophy was not much of a gift to the world, but for a while it seemed like a good idea. Though we might not dare admit it, Marxism still has a few insights to offer to anyone wanting to understand the workings of capitalism, though too few to excuse everything that was done in its name. Born in Germany spent much time in the British museum and the British pub, buried Highgate Cemetery. Oddly, his ideas never really caught on in his adopted homeland.
10/10 The NHS
They came from many, many backgrounds, including Ireland, the Philippines, east Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa, as they still do, but the contribution of the black nurses who came to the UK from the Caribbean to heal and care for is a debt of honour that must be recognised. It so sometimes forgotten that it was Enoch Powell, then Minister of Health (1960-62), who campaigned to recruit their skilled nurses to come and work over here. One abiding legacy we can thank Enoch for.
Mr Warman cited the local Polish community being part of last year’s Remembrance Day services as an example of where the past does not necessarily differ from the present.
“It’s not just that we’re on the same side now, we’ve been on the same side for decades,” he said. “People have been coming to the town for a number of years because of the work, which is good news.
“Integration is a known issue that Boston has been tackling since well before 2011 – and we will all be in a better place the more we openly talk about what the challenges are and what we’d like to do about it.”Reuse content