Festive lights are a beacon of tolerance

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Indy Politics

Walk down Belgrave Road in Leicester and you can enjoy its glittering lights and the sights and sounds of the East. The bulbs and bunting are there for Christmas, but only because they were left up after Diwali, the Hindu, Sikh and Jain festival of light.

The decorations demonstrate why this city, with ethnic minorities making up 38 per cent of the population, is a shining example of how different races can co-exist. Diwali swings smoothly into Christmas and the locals are perfectly happy to see their neighbours of different creeds enjoying themselves.

Leicester was one of two areas praised in yesterday's report for working successfully at good race relations (the other was Southall in London). The report's authors were particularly impressed with the way community leaders met regularly to avoid misunderstandings. They were pleased with the way children in school were taught about each other's festivals and cultures, with the way police officers fostered "micro beats" to get to know everyone in their locality, and with the way respected members of eachcommunity acted as "interveners" between the local force and minority groups.

The report said: "It was noticeable that diversity was seen as a positive thing."

It has not always been easy in Leicester. Racial tensions erupted in riots in 1983 when members of the West Indian and Asian communities took to the streets and attacked police.

Abdul Razak Osman, a councillor responsible for equal opportunities, said the authorities had worked very hard to improve the situation. He said: "We have race relations groups, interfaith umbrella groups and elected representatives who all work together to promote integration and good relations. We have worked hard, too, to have the council workforce, police and fire brigade reflect the population."

One of the reasons for the city's success is the way its children are educated. Rushey Mead secondary school, where 92 per cent of the pupils are from Asian backgrounds, was singled out for praise. Its headmaster, Steve White, said: "We teach our pupils about other religions and cultures and encourage them to celebrate each other's festivals. That avoids the kind of suspicion, misunderstanding and fear that was evident in the summer riots. It is right to teach children to respect one another's cultures, but it must start young. There's no point in waiting until they're 15 or 16. By then, it might be too late."