How sharp rise in migration has changed Ipswich
PUBLISHED: 07:30 01 April 2019 | UPDATED: 07:45 02 April 2019
What does the changing face of Ipswich mean for the town and its people? As part of a series of special reports we looks at the successes and challenges migration has brought.
The face of Ipswich is changing.
A four-fold increase in the town’s foreign-born population in the past generation has brought an influx of new cultures, languages and ethnic groups.
The number of people living in the town who were born outside the UK, reached an estimated 24,000 in 2018 – up from 6,000 in 1991 – accounting for 17.6% of the total population. In areas such as Westgate ward, a quarter of residents were born outside the UK, according to official data.
A 2018 school census found a fifth of Ipswich pupils did not speak English as their home language. Almost 40 languages are spoken at just one primary school.
Across Suffolk, 7,400 Romanians have registered for National Insurance numbers since 2013.
This rapid change has become a talking point; for good and bad. Over recent months, we met with people from dozens of different nationalities to find out how these change have affected the town.
For the most part, newcomers describe Ipswich as a welcoming place, where they have been able to contribute and build new lives. Surveys found 79% of migrants were satisfied living in Suffolk.
But concerns are growing that work supporting harmonious relations is at risk. Funding for some groups is dwindling and hate crimes against foreigners more than doubled, fuelled, some groups say, by the Brexit vote.
Former Ipswich mayor Hamil Clarke, who came to Ipswich as part of the post-war Windrush generation, even warned of a return to the “bad old days” when some pubs had signs saying “no blacks, no dogs, no Irish”. While there has been much to celebrate in improving attitudes since then, Mr Clarke and others say the town was now at risk of regressing.
The Bangladeshi Support Centre (BSC), which helps new arrivals integrate, claims “short-sighted” cuts could undo years of progress. Without support, BSC director Shayra Begum said Ipswich risked becoming “another Luton”, where migrants lead segregated lives, fuelling community tensions.
For now, however, most people we met spoke highly of Ipswich.
Refugees and asylum seekers told of their love for the town, having been made to feel safe and welcome after suffering terrible atrocities at home.
Migrants arriving from Commonwealth countries and the European Union say they have been able to thrive here.
The effect of diversity can now be seen through Polish shops, Turkish restaurants and Portuguese cafes, as well as many festivals exploring the culture of different nationalities.
In Norwich Road, one of Ipswich’s most diverse areas, a project has been launched to celebrate the benefits of diversity by showcasing the contributions of its business community.
But not everyone shares a universally positive view. While Ipswich remains less diverse than many larger cities, the recent influx has happened faster than any other time in its history. And although 74% of Suffolk natives responding to a survey said migration had a positive impact on their area, they were more concerned about its impact on services. Just 24% said its effect had been positive in this regard..
Even some established migrant communities say change has been too quick and suggested new arrivals must adapt to their cultural surroundings.
And immigrant groups still face prejudice and challenges to overcome. New arrivals regularly say they feel they must work harder to enjoy the rewards available to others. Anti-racism campaigners claim subconscious bias can still make it difficult for minorities to access services, from business support, through to healthcare and justice.
The disproportionate use of police stop and search which, despite recent improvements, means black people are still 3.8 times more likely to be stopped by than white people, remains a big concern for campaigners.
Community leaders also warned young black males are at greater risk of indoctrination into gangs, drugs and crime. They claim too little has been done to prevent this vicious cycle, and the recent violence in the town, including the murder of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens, 17, was a consequence.
Despite a crackdown on modern slavery in Ipswich, figures show it is a growing problem, with migrants most at risk.
For all the changes Ipswich has been through, the town’s future remains far from certain. It will be for all sections of community to shape that future together.
Email our newsroom with your views on multiculturalism in Ipswich.
A history of migration
Migrants have been recorded in Ipswich since as far back as the 10th century.
The first arrivals were Saxons and Danes, looking to trade, followed by Flemish communities of the Middle Ages and 18th century Huguenot refugees.
The post-war years brought the first significant wave of immigration after the Government invited people from the Commonwealth to prop up the UK’s depleted workforce. Some came to Ipswich to work in factories such as Crane’s, Ransomes or Manganese Bronze.
Migration increased again following the expansion of the European Union in 2004 and 2007, which brought people seeking work. By 2018, EU migrants accounted for an estimated 14,000 people in Ipswich.
The 2011 Census showed the largest non-UK population was Polish (2,367) followed by Lithuanian (837), Bangladeshi (754) and Portuguese (748).
Since 2013/14 more than 7,000 Romanians have registered to work in Suffolk.
How this series came about
The pace of immigration in Ipswich in recent years has seen it become a topic of much debate.
While the conversation has at times veered towards racism or xenophobia, particularly on social media, there are also legitimate questions to ask about how Ipswich has changed. This series of features aims to investigate those issues.
It has looked at experiences of new arrivals, asking: why did they come here? Have they felt welcomed? Were there any challenges?
We have spoken to various migrant groups including established communities from Commonwealth countries through to more recent arrivals from the European Union, as well as refugees and asylum seekers.
We have also taken a look at the work that has been done to support harmonious intercultural relations and the concerns that this work could be undone because of increasing tensions.
The stories will run in our newspapers and online over the coming days.