Multicultural Britain: An unlikely success story

Broadwater Farm was without hope in 1985 - now it's a beacon for racial harmony
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The youth worker, then 26, had his nose broken by a police truncheon as he tried to calm the rioters amid flying petrol bombs and burning barricades in gloomy car parks that had become the private domains of drug dealers and street robbers.

Today, Broadwater Farm - the one-time no-go estate which entered infamy after PC Keith Blakelock was hacked to death during the riot on 6 October, 1985 - could hardly be more different.

At a time of crisis in faith in multicultural Britain - sharpened by claims from Trevor Phillips, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality, that the nation is "sleepwalking to segregation" - look no further than "the Farm" and its vibrant community of 39 different nationalities for evidence that ethnic diversity in rude health.

Mr Stirling coaches a youth football team, Broadwater United, which has produced 25 professional footballers in the past five years. The father-of-two said: "There was complete shock and grief at what took place in October 1985. But we picked ourselves up and took up from where we had been. Now look - this is officially a low-crime area, it has decent facilities and is one of the most ethnically diverse places on the planet. It is a place to be proud of."

The transformation of the 21-acre estate, completed in 1970 and currently home to 3,000 people, is on one level purely physical. Gone are the concrete walkways that linked each of the 12 housing blocks above ground in what designers hoped would be a master stroke of social engineering by lifting inhabitants away from cars and roads.

The reality by the early 1980s was less utopian. The walkways formed a warren that could not be policed while the car parks underneath were stalked by crack dealers. Now, each of the housing blocks has a secure entrance hall with a concierge service. Green spaces and play areas punctuate the blocks, renovated at a cost of £33m.

But it is only when its inhabitants talk that the true nature of Broadwater Farm 2005 becomes apparent. Yesterday, a £1m Children's Centre was opened next to its existing community centre and primary school. Jennifer Kamara, 35, a mother-of-four who has lived on the estate for 12 years since coming to Britain from the civil war in Sierra Leone, said: "This is not paradise on earth, we still have the same problems as anywhere else, but people have been given back their purpose and dignity. The kids have their free time occupied and we enjoy the fact that so many different cultures are here. My neighbours are Turkish, my kids walk to school with their Bangladeshi friends. We are one big family on Broadwater."

The statistics prove her point. In 1985, the population of the estate was 49 per cent white, 42 per cent Afro-Caribbean, and 9 per cent from the Indian sub-continent and other areas. Today it is 30 per cent white, 27 per cent west African, principally Ghanaian, 24 per cent Afro-Caribbean and 15 per cent Turkish or Turkish Kurd. A sign at the entrance to the estate says "welcome" in 14 different languages. Amid such a melting pot of ethnicities, the questioning by Trevor Phillips of practices such as the printing of leaflets in multiple tongues falls on stony ground. Paul Dennehy, who has been Haringey Borough Council's estate manager for 11 years, said: "This estate offers social housing and people who need it are often those who are coming to Britain from another country. It is a reality that people won't speak fluent English instantaneously. It is an interim measure - their children are born here and speak English as well as any of their peers."

Less than a mile from the estate stands the1,220-pupil White Hart Lane School. Its former pupils include Trevor Phillips. Its former headteacher said it was time to celebrate diversity, not to try to quash it. Under multicultural policies such as teaching science in Turkish and implementing special lessons for Caribbean pupils, David Daniels and his team were able to increase the number of pupils passing five or more GCSEs from 10 per cent in 2001 to an expected 50 per cent next year.

He said: "Far from being something which impacts upon UK life I see [diversity] as something that revitalises us and makes us powerful economically."

The extent to which the tensions that sparked events of 20 years ago have eased was demonstrated last month when police raided a suspected drugs den. Chief Superintendent Stephen Bloomfield, the Haringey commander, said: " There was time when an operation like that would have caused us concern but afterwards the residents came out of their houses and applauded the officers. Broadwater Farm is no longer a place we would consider to be out of the ordinary."

Many outside the Farm do not share his view. Residents complain that taxi drivers refuse to visit the estate after dark and some say they use friends' addresses when applying for jobs.

So it fell to one of the estate's oldest residents to explain its new allure. Mary Kemp, 82, has lived on the estate with her husband, Bill, since it was opened. She said: "We moved here from a house with no bathroom. It was like a holiday camp and that remains the case. We are pure English and do you know what that means? It means being tolerant of people, regardless of colour or creed. It means embracing people who are different from you. That's why we stayed here."

In the melting pot



White 49%

West Indian/African 42%

Indian subcontinent 3%


875 burglaries or attempted burglaries

50 street robberies or muggings

50 physical assaults



White 30%

West African 27%

African Caribbean 24%

Turkish-speaking Kurds 12-15 %

Somali and Congoloese 7%


0 robberies or serious assaults

1 house burglary

2% of residents felt unsafe. The borough average is 15%