Leicester is enjoying the glow of the national spotlight thanks to the heroics of their Premier League topping footballers. The media coverage has reflected the city as one of the most diverse in Britain. In an exclusive article for IndiaGBnews.com Leicester Councillor Manjula Sood MBE, pictured, says British Asians have played a key role in Leicester’s economic success.
From the 1960s onwards, new communities began to arrive in Leicester from countries in the British Commonwealth, bringing with them a flair for business and a desire to build a better life for themselves and their families.
Leicester was an attractive destination, offering plenty of affordable housing and a large number of jobs – in engineering, hosiery and knitwear, and in the city’s boot and shoe factories.
The city had a long history of female employment in its factories, and many Asian women joined the workforce too, with their earnings contributing to the family income.
Some people saved their money until they could afford to start their own businesses, opening shops and restaurants and taking over local hosiery and knitwear factories.
As Leicester’s Asian population grew, specialised shops and businesses opened to cater for their needs – and as the wealth and religious diversity of the Asian population grew, so did the number, and variety, of their places of worship.
Today, British Asians continue to make a huge contribution to Leicester’s economy.
Those who grew up and were schooled in Leicester have made a significant impact in professions such as law, health, accountancy and education – and Asian-owned businesses provide jobs for thousands of local people.
Leicester’s Golden Mile – the Belgrave Road – is a vibrant and important part of the city’s economy and a growing tourism attraction. Home to the largest concentration of jewellery shops outside India, it is also home to a wide range of businesses, Indian restaurants and clothing shops.
Asian culture and festivals now enrich life for everyone in Leicester.
The festival of Diwali is a major event in the city’s calendar and draws the eyes of the world to the city. The celebrations – which are reputed to be the biggest outside of India – are enjoyed by tens of thousands of people of all backgrounds each year.
Asian places of worship have changed the city’s skyline – the impressive BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a cultural destination in its own right, with its stonework hand-carved by craftsmen in Gujarat, and then brought over and assembled on site.
But it’s not just culturally and economically, where British Asians have made an impact. Over the last four decades, they have been playing key roles in British civic life too.
Councillor Gordhan Parmar was Leicester’s first Asian Lord Mayor when he was elected in Leicester in 1987. My late husband, Paul, was a councillor for 14 years, and I was very proud to follow in his footsteps – and even prouder to become the country’s first Asian female Lord Mayor in 2008.
Cllr Manjula Sood MBE is the current High Bailiff of Leicester, and Leicester’s Assistant City Mayor for Communities and Equalities.