Monday, December 01, 2014

British Asian nostalgia for old Redbridge

Redbridge Underground Station by O.F.E on Flickr
Back in 2012 Anamik Saha and Sophie Watson interviewed second-generation British Asian 30-somethings about their attachment to Redbridge (and like the authors, I apologise up front for collapsing a huge diversity of backgrounds into the term 'British Asian'). The work linked above is very readable but I'll give a taste here.

What was striking about this age group - and different from the younger and older participants who had a warm attachment to the Redbridge - was an almost universal dislike of the borough, and that this negativity unpacked into ambivalence about the expanding British Asian community and a nostalgia for a time in the past when they perceived Redbridge as more culturally diverse. Their perception was that the physical appearance of the borough was deteriorating as trees were cut down, front gardens paved over for off-street parking and quintessential 1930s house facades lost to status-conscious extensions with little regard for local aesthetics.

A few things immediately occurred to me. One was a reference I once heard a local bloke make in passing, when I first moved here about 10 years ago, to 'Jewish lawns', meaning paved-over front gardens. Clearly the departing Jewish community are implicated in the loss of gardens, even though 30-something British Asians may associate them with a golden age. Another is that even if all the British Asians in the UK were to pave over their gardens, it wouldn't account for even half the paved-over gardens there are - everybody seems to be at it. Another was that the most ambitious and talented domestic gardener I personally know of in Redbridge is Gujarati Hindu via East Africa. I also remembered how the Jewish community already established in the 1930s East End were generally dismayed by the influx of persecuted Jews from Europe, and (with some exceptions) mostly hoped they'd go away again. I expect the hipsters who kicked off the gentrification of Dalston and Deptford are equally gutted that the exotic locals who created the atmosphere sold up to other middle class White British but with far less rarified tastes. On the subject of extensions, ours is made of glass and aluminium and is certainly not traditional. It replaced the cheap lean-to my other half's (White British Christian) grandparents built in the 1980s. They enclosed the front door with its beautiful sunburst window in a porch, and in doing so helped to regulate the temperature of their home. So if there is decline in Redbridge I think we can safely say that it's not Asian in character.

But this was a socio-cultural study of perceptions rather than an investigation into actual practices, so it would be totally missing the point to poke holes in what the participants said, off the tops of their heads. They weren't being asked to respond as experts but as residents with points of view, and so they said what they thought accordingly.

Population mobility is happening across London. I expect the perceptions of these second-generation, educated, professional British Asian 30-somethings are shared by the high proportion of people, termed White British by the  2011 Census, who have left Redbridge in the past 10 years. They were 57.5% of the population in 2001 falling sharply to 34.5 by 2011. The other - overlapping - groups who outmigrated were Christians and, even more steeply, Jews - Clayhall and Cranbrook have lost over half their Jews since 2001.

Population mobility brings changes which unsettle established populations in turn. If you started life in 'old Redbridge' and then profound change happened to you over a decade, things might look like they're going downhill (though plenty don't think that). On the other hand, the Saha and Watson research suggests that if you are too young to identify yourself with how things were before the profound change - or if like me you started life elsewhere and chose Redbridge later - you find a great deal to love about the place. Seriously, it's the best place I've ever lived. Though the Co-op was a huge loss.

There's certainly a class dimension to these interviews - Wanstead was often mentioned as the only desirable part of Redbridge, for example. I do wonder what the old-timers of Epping and Barnet think of the migrant Redbridge incomers, and what the Wanstead establishment will think if British Asian professionals (many of whom are forced by the dire housing situation to live with their parents) can ever afford to get there.

Photo credit: Redbridge Underground Station by O.F.E. on Flickr. CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0.

19 comments:

  1. Thank you for the write-up. You captured the essence of the argument perfectly. And our personal reflections resonate with my own experience and feelings about Redbridge (though I have gone the other way and moved back to the east end - the reverse of the Jewish and Asian communities so many decades before).

    I was surprised to hear that the paving over of front lawns was also strongly associated with Jewish families. But you're right that it cannot be connected to any particular group. In fact like you we encountered older Asian respondents who still maintained beautiful front lawns.

    You know, if I remember correctly (and this is going back to the late 1980s I think) it was the council itself who encouraged home-owners to convert front lawns into off-street parking. This would make sense when you consider that you would need the council to turn the paving in front of your house into a driveway. In which case it's interesting how this process - probably rationalised by the council in terms of economics and enacted in the name of development - becomes racialised and ethnicised. Certainly worth investigating. Need to do a bigger project!

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  2. Hello Ani - maybe I'll ask the 'Jewish lawns' person (though he will probably be embarrassed, but we are fairly close) whether the phrase was widely used - he worked in a large organisation with a borough-wide remit.

    That's a really good point about whether the council encouraging off-street parking - I'm very curious now. I look forward to your future work!

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    1. Well, the Volvos gotta be parked somewhere :)

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  3. I have lived in London all my life and, despite pressure from both my daughters to abandon it, I hope I always will. In my lifetime I have watched London experience dramatic changes. After the war, with determination and a sense that it would be worth it in the end, it dragged itself up out of bomb blasted ruins to become the 'Swinging London' of the 1960's. It is still a glorious city and if you don't believe me, go and stand on Blackfriars Bridge at any time of day or night and just look up and down the river.

    The biggest change in my lifetime, however, is not in the fabric of the city or its place in the worlds of finance, theatre, fashion or the arts. The biggest change has been the people arriving from all parts of the world in such numbers that the true London population is now in a minority in many areas. Nobody can deny that this has caused profound changes in the culture and ethos of my city, and it is tragic that I am not able to state this obvious fact without being branded racist.

    I do not deny that newcomers bring benefits, but we should be permitted to say that they also bring disadvantages. Why should that be heresy?

    The paving over of front gardens, however, has a great deal less to do with ethnicity than with the phenomenon of universal car ownership which has taken place in the last 50 years.Similarly, inappropriate additions to houses is not restricted to any particular group - when the house opposite mine was owned bya Greek family they added a perfect Palladian porch and pillars to what was essentially a 'Tudorbethan' semi, and considered it an improvement. Fortunately the subsequent owner (Asian) took it down.

    I wonder what the 30-something second generation Polish, Latvian etc. people will say about Redbridge? I suspect nothing, as they won't be here. Incoming populations move on and are replaced. Perhaps in 30 years' time Redbridge will have a large community of Brazilians. Irish, Jews, West Indians, Asians, Poles will come and go but my beautiful city will thrive and survive - after all, it always has.

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    1. Hi Patsy, I'd be interested to know the circumstances under which you were branded as racist. Personally, I don't know what 'true London population' means. Do you mean whoever was born here? In which case, thinking about the research above, could the 30-somethings be 'true London' but their parents, as migrants from Asia, never could be?

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    2. That's one possible definition.

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  4. i am completely lost as...... who do you suppose is responsible for all of the extensions in the areas of ilford,seven kings,Goodmayes,clayhall/bside and now moving into Chadwell heath? i find this a very confusing bit of writing all i get from this is that whomever it is about seems to think that jewish people are responsible for extending houses......well this is not what i am seeing please someone explain

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    1. Hi j martin - can't see where I gave this impression, but if you can point me to the sentences in question perhaps I could rephrase them.

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  5. mira you seem to mention jews alot the bit about when "the jews in the eastend did not want the jews from the war here" what does this have to do with 30 something asians opinions and why is it that only asians were interviewed i could go on .....i think patsy's second paragraph is a good indication of why i will comment no more but even my 23 year old daughter who spent her early schooling years in Clayhall is a bit confused about the point of this piece

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    1. Jean

      The reason that only Asians were interviewed is because that was the Terms of Reference of the Study referred to. The researchers wanted to know the perceptions of British Asians in relation to their attachment to Redbridge. I find that interesting, do you not?

      When writing/reporting about such matters it is commonplace to relate the content to one’s own background and experience. You will find a lot of mine if you look back through this blog but maybe you didn’t notice it as it is WASP, the same as yours, White Anglo Saxon Protestant.

      Mira is Jewish and is merely relating and comparing her own experience and background to the current situation. Not that that should have any bearing on the validity of her comments, but nevertheless I find that interesting, do you not?

      Patsy and I have a mutual background, but she forgets when the Jews took over Whitechapel and then Golders Green and Clayhall, the Chinese took over Soho, the Italians took hold of Clerkenwell, the Irish at Finsbury Park, the Greeks at Turnpike Lane and so on. The people who came here and “changed the culture and ethos of our City”, except they didn’t. London has always been like that. Long may it stay so.

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    2. Yes Alan, I agree, I used to be taken every year to the Italian Procession in Clerkenwell when the children received their first communion. The difference now is that the number of people arriving in London each year is far greater than it has ever been and is disproportionate. There were always Greek or Jewish or Irish etc. quarters but whole boroughs and some towns now are inhabited predominantly by one ethnic or religious group, predominantly being more than 50%. I am not passing judgement on that, I am describing the experience of us all. My point was that just outlining the situation as I see it exposes me to accusations of racism. I have lived through the biggest change ever in the population of London and I should be permitted to raise the subject and to discuss it without attracting that kind of comment. You may remember that a piece I wrote about immigration some time ago was attacked by one of your contributors, who later admitted that she had misread the article.

      And if you want to be branded racist, just say to a person who doesn't share your opinions that you are considering voting for UKIP.

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    3. I suggest, Alan,that you allow Mira to defend herself. Otherwise you are jeopardising your reputation for impartiality.

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  6. dear mr bside21
    i would find it far more interesting if it were the opinions of all cultures of 30 somethings,still dont find any point of the europeon jewish peoples bit....i am very protective of jewish people as they have been very kind to us over the years....i am of catholic irish descent so know all about people's sometimes attitude both from social and authorotive persons.i do also think that there is a big difference in the reasons people come here now and the lack of intergration like we had in the past and dare i say before the "generous" Blair years.

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  7. Patsy, sorry for the wait. Your perception of domination by one ethnicity isn't the way things actually are. I've yet to find one London Borough it's true for. Except (census-defined) White British, of course, who are the majority in many boroughs. But we don't worry about domination by White British, it seems. And although there's a lot of concern about immigrants, we're not checking to see if the White Brits who have set up residence in London are actually even from London. Even though they might be worse neighbours.

    I'd be interested to find out why you suppose that is. It's almost as if you're saying that some immigrants to London worse than others, because of their ethnicity. But you can't be thinking that because as you've told us, you aren't racist.

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    1. I'm sorry Mira, I really don't understand

      Why should the predominance of White British in Britain be a problem ?. Don't you expect France to be predominantly French?

      And just exactly where have I said that some migrants are worse than others? Or that they don't make good neighbours? Do you actually read what I write, or are you so prejudiced against me that you make all kind of assumptions?

      Plainly you have made up your mind and cannot acknowledge the validity of any opinion that does not concur with your own. For that reason, I refuse to continue the debate. You win. I leave the field in your possession.

      And that is what always happens when anybody attempts to debate the impact of immigration in a sane and sensible manner. The racist flags come out and are so vigourously waved that all debate is stifled.




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  8. UKIP not racist - whatever next? Are you going to try to tell me they aren't sexist?

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/nigel-farage/11179456/Of-course-Ukip-wont-condemn-its-racist-new-partners-because-Ukip-is-the-cult-of-Nigel-Farage.html

    http://leftfootforward.org/2014/10/ukip-policies-dangerous-costly-and-yes-racist/

    UKIP supporters, who knows? The point is, Patsy, it would be wrong to treat the accusation of racism as if it's worse than racism itself. I don't think we have much of a problem with people being wrongly called racists. It might happen, and it's irritating, but in the grand scheme of things it's not a biggy - we can talk about it.

    We do have a genuine, violent and hateful problem with racism, though - 37,484 race hate crimes in 2013-14. So can we please focus on that?
    https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/hate-crimes-england-and-wales-2013-to-2014

    And anybody who wants to excuse these crimes as a natural result of too much immigration should remember that we are all immigrants (as Alan says, back to the dawn of time) and yet we uphold our own right not to be harmed. And most of all, we are all human.

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  9. I am totally fed up with people ascribing to me views that I have never expressed.

    I wish to be able to say in public that the arrival of large numbers of people from all over the world in a very short space of time has had a dramatic effect on London as well as other parts of the country. People would like to be able to discuss it in a sensible way, give their opinions and help to plan for the future, as the impact will be considerable. Most of the people arriving from the EU are young and they are having babies, which will impact on the number of school places needed in the future. That probably means more building, either infill or on new sites, which, deny it if you can, has an impact on residents. The major plans for housebuilding that the Council is consulting on are to provide extra housing for people moving into the borough, not to move around the people who already live in it. The arrival of large numbers of migrants to this city is having an impact. If you are not prepared to accept this, then you are not going to be able to manage that impact. However, when anybody puts their head above the parapet and expresses the view that migration is not an unmitigated blessing, that there are downsides as well as advantages, and that appropriate plans need to be made,then they attract the kind of comment that has been made in these pages.

    And just out of interest, UKIP's main point is that we should be able to take control of our borders - not stop people coming in but to know who they are and what history they may have.Have you ever tried to get into the USA or Russia, Australia, New Zealand - the list is endless - without the appropriate visa or work permit? Is all the world racist except thee and me, and even thou art a bit racist?(Version of an old Yorkshire saying, 'all t'worlds made save thee and me, and even th'art a bit odd)

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  10. I am totally fed up with people ascribing to me views that I have never expressed.

    The arrival of large numbers of people in London and other parts of the country in a very short time is having an impact. To deny that is to lose the opportunity to manage that impact, and it needs to be managed. For instance, many of the people from Eastern Europe are young and they are having babies. That will impact on maternity services, and school places further down the line. That means buildings, which has an impact.. Here in Redbridge the housebuilding plans about which the Council is consulting are to provide housing for people coming into the borough, not for moving around the people who already live here. Those plans will have an impact.

    In some ways false accusations of racism are as serious as racism, as they prevent honest and open discussion and make people nervous about expressing their views beyond their own front door.

    My fear, as I have said before, is not hordes of foreigners swarming over the rooftops. My fear is that people who feel threatened by large numbers of immigrants in their community are more likely to vote for an extreme right-wing party. If the lessons of history are not learned, they will be repeated.

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    1. Two very similar posts as I thought the first hadn't been properly sent and did it again. Technology isn't my long suit.

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