United across the divide: The nation answers Griffin

No one would pretend everything is perfect, but, contrary to the BNP's suggestions, all races do live together and respect each other's differences. Jonathan Owen and Victoria Richards report


1. Kadra Ege, 27

Anti-racism campaigner, founder of Brent Ladies Football Club, London

"I'm a black Muslim female and I feel like I'm a triple minority everywhere I go. Most problems are down to people's lack of knowledge. Every weekend over 100 girls turn up to the club from every race. It has integrated the whole community together. What Nick Griffin was saying about how he hated Muslims because they diss females, that's actually wrong. He doesn't have a clue."

2. Veejay Patel, 46

Leicester councillor and organiser of Diwali celebration

"The city started celebrating Diwali in the 1970s. Last weekend there were 40,000 people celebrating on the streets. While 70 per cent were from the Hindu, Jain and Sikh communities, the rest were from all walks of life. People came to join in the celebration, enjoy the atmosphere, eat the food and have a good time. That's what integration is about – respecting and enjoying each others cultures."

3. Mandla Sibanda, 35

Leader of the Sounds of South Africa choir, Sheffield

"Our choir is made up of people born in Sheffield, Italian and French people, African people: they are from all over. People segregate themselves but it's important to mix with people of other cultures. We sing some songs in English but most are in southern African languages. The choir helps to break down barriers."

4.Deepa Rangarajan, 33

Doctor, London

"I was born here, was educated here and consider myself British. It doesn't occur to me that my skin colour is different. Most of my friends are British/white. At school I didn't feel different from my non-Asian classmates. The only abuse I've suffered professionally as a doctor was from drink- or drug-influenced patients. This is my home."

5. Zarghona Rassa, 47

Founder of the British Afghan Women's Society

"When I arrived in October 1994 there were maybe 2,000 Afghans. We have more than 50,000 now. People are different. Some you don't get on with, but I personally haven't had any negative experiences during all that time.

We have had some incidents outside London. I think things are getting better, though. People are more tolerant now than when I first came here, partly because people have worked hard to contribute, and because of those working to reduce tensions between communities. Phrases like 'bogus asylum-seeker' don't help."

6. Father Phil Sumner, 57

Catholic priest who leads Oldham's interfaith forum.

"Oldham is regarded as the most segregated town in the country, and when you've got that segregation you've got major problems. Engagement isn't happening on every street corner, but it is happening. Things have got better. When I arrived many people in my own community said we don't speak to 'them' [Muslims]. People are now saying we're speaking to 'them' much more, but it's still 'them'.

7. Sonoko Obuchi, 27

Spatial and graphic designer

"When I moved here, for the first few years I was often being shouted at and once someone threw a bag of sugar at me. I used to feel I shouldn't become attached to this place because my experience was one of being abused. But meeting Danyul [her husband] and getting to know real Londoners changed everything. Now I feel like London is my home. Once I established my Japanese identity here I started to use it to express myself in my artwork."

8. Lloyd Cooke, 47

Director of Saltbox Centre in Stoke, a Christian charity

"While Stoke is sometimes known as a hotbed of BNP support, in general people tolerate each other and are very happy to live and work alongside each other. Faith communities in Stoke are in a really healthy and positive position. In 2008, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and 400 faith, civic and community leaders celebrated what's going on in the city. Once Stoke was white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Now it is a much more multicultural. We have the occasional issues but people are very tolerant of each other."

9. Jamie Dodds Griffin, 35

Youth worker, United Youth Community Group in Burley, near Leeds.

"I work for a small community centre for kids between 13 and 17. They all live locally, but come from a mix of backgrounds, from Afro-Caribbean and Asian to mixed race and white. When we first started the project two years ago there were racist comments from some kids, but it is much less common now. It would be wrong to say there are no racial tensions in the area; it is quite deprived and that adds to tensions. Generally, integration and acceptance are just a way of life."

10. Carol Bailey, 47

Project leader at the Hideaway Youth Centre, Moss Side, Manchester

"We've got people from every background here. They come to talk, play pool and spend time with their friends. The colour of their skin never comes into it. I think young people take more of an interest in each other's cultures now. Children all play together – and they don't care. I grew up in Manchester and I've never had any racism directed at me."

11. Reverend Canon Dr Andrew Wingate, 65

Director of Leicester's St Philip's Centre for interfaith relations

"Like many others, I was deeply disturbed by the sentiments expressed by Nick Griffin. The church is across the road from a major mosque, and we have very good relations. The area is a mixture of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, East Europeans and so-called white indigenous English people. Interfaith dialogue is not a burden but a joy, as we learn from each other. "

12. Mohamed Maigag, 42

Director of the Haringey Somali Community and Cultural Association

When I came, things were better than they are currently. For one reason there was no media attack on refugees and asylum-seekers and people of different communities. Things changed significantly because of 9/11 and 7/7. People fear what they don't understand, and when that fear is removed understanding will flourish. I think people are gaining an understanding of minorities and things will improve but it is going to take time.

13. Ash Ibrahim, 35

Works as a young people's play officer in Bradford

"The reality in Bradford is that it's a friendly place and no different from any other city in the UK. It is diverse, not just culturally but also ethnically, and I believe that's a good thing. You're going to have certain frictions but generally, from my own experience, people tend to get on with each other. We are seeing kids from different communities coming together through this scheme, but it is all about small steps."

14. Anna Chen, 40s

Broadcaster, performer and anti-racism campaigner in London

"Things have been marvellous. There was a period, certainly in London, where I experienced little or no racism. Since New Labour played the race card and has been racing the rest of the parties to the right on the subject I see signs of things getting worse, and I see immigrants being scapegoated yet again. Britain to me has always been a brilliant place to live if you are an ethnic minority. What's happening is that it's now going backwards because ethnic minorities are buying into the myth that immigration results in competition for limited resources."

15. Sarah Brookner Reed, 34

Newsagent in Waltham, Lincolnshire

"I grew up in the London borough of Redbridge, where there were lots of Jewish people but it was a total mix of everyone. When we moved to Waltham it was a real shock at first because nearly everyone is white. Not everyone knows I'm Jewish, and a couple of the paper boys were calling each other "Yids" but were really sorry when I told them exactly what it meant. We have a Chinese family who run the takeaway, a Turkish family who run the kebab shop, an African man who is a doctor: totally different from London but everyone gets along fine."

16. Tracey O'Loughlin, 57

Her father was from St Kitts, mother second-generation Irish, Birmingham

"My dad was a bus driver and my mum was a conductor. Dad was invited here in the 1950s to help fill the labour shortage. Her grandmother arrived from Ireland in 1931. They suffered terrible prejudice, especially from white women who would spit at them in the street. Racism in the 1970s was bad, but things got much better in the 1980s and 90s. Now it is becoming more like the 70s. But I'm British. I love Britain. I was born here. It's the only culture that I know, and I claim it."

17. Rob Deeks, 28

Project manager for Aik Saath (Together As One) in Slough

"Our work is around trying to help young people understand that Britain is a multicultural country. The project that always fills me with the most pride is one with some young Polish people who were struggling to integrate into Slough, where the majority of our volunteers helping them were from the Pakistani community."

18. Fatima Mangera, 40

Chair of the FolesHillFields vision project in Coventry

"There is mistrust and tension between different parts of the community and we want to stop that from spilling over into violence between people who are already struggling just to survive. We bring local people of different communities together to interact and develop understanding of their differences and commonalities."

19. Kasia Chiva, 31

A founder of the Association of Polish Women in Peterborough

"We have quite a lot of British ladies coming along to our meetings. They are open to everybody, not just Polish. We are all women and have much more in common between us than to divide. I think Peterborough is quite lucky because local authorities have recognised the necessity of bringing communities together. Things have changed, and people had to learn about cultures and customs. I'm not saying that we don't have hate crime, but whatever bad things happen are between individuals, not communities."

20. Tariq Rafique, 41

Acting director, Oldham race equality partnership

"Oldham has come a long way since 2001. People accept that we need to interact and integrate more. You can see the positive signs of communities living together. People from all backgrounds are now more confident to come forward to report hate crime. Nick Griffin highlighted the true nature of what BNP is really about – segregating and splitting communities in whatever way it can."

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