My name is Russell, and it is my pleasure to have been working with the Link Up team for the last few months. I graduated last year from Birkbeck University of London with a BA in history, and decided to further my interest of historical research and writing by volunteering to work on the Family Tree project. Currently seeking a change in career, I decided to improve my CV by volunteering for work in a research capacity with a view to becoming more involved in records and archives. And The Great British Community interested me in a way that would enable me to work in my own free time on mini projects and topics that interest me on a personal level.
What impressed me about the charity is their commitment to celebrating the diversity that London has to offer, as well as the intention to combat myths and debunk commonly held beliefs – this definitely spoke to the historian in me. Having lived in London now for over 12 years you never stop learning about the city; its people, its landmarks and their stories, and while my previous experience of the Newham borough was limited, in the short time I have been on board I have uncovered a variety of interesting characters and stories both through my own research and that already done by other members of the team.
I have decided to focus my research on Ethnicity, which in the Newham borough covers a great deal of ground, however being someone who is interested in peoples stories and their origins the topic gives me no shortage of interesting research areas.
Newham is one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in London. In 2009, 64.6% of its residents were recorded as being non-white, however white British people still made up the largest ethnic group in the area. 20.5% of residents were recorded as being from Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, and 18.1% were Black. 11.5% were Indian and 14.4% were either from another ethnic group, or from a mixed ethnic origin. Newham also has one of the highest population turnover rates in London, with a higher than average number of residents leaving or entering the borough.
Historically the nature of ethnic immigration has changed significantly over time. Following the Industrial Revolution large numbers of Irish, German, Italian, Polish and Russian settlers came to the borough, and the period after 1900 saw an increase in the number of Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe, especially in the Canning Town area. After 1918 demobbed Black and Asian troops from the First World War came to settle in the borough and the period post 1945 saw large increases of immigrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Caribbean largely due to government campaigns in commonwealth countries inviting people to work. In the 1960s and 70s the Muslim population developed significantly and the present day sees an increase of Polish, Hungarian and Eastern European residents as restrictions on the movement of EU citizens have been relaxed. While it is my firm belief that the borough and in turn the nation as a whole has benefited from the arrival of these diverse ethnic groups, Newham faces a challenge to retain its working age population within the borough. With a high population turnover, the Borough needs to find ways of holding on to its young residents, as a population with a high level of working age people will increase family income levels and prosperity across the Borough.
With the questions of ethnicity and immigration prevalent in today’s political discourse, it is an enjoyable experience for me to investigate stories from within this area, and show that far from losing our identity and our culture, as British people our identity and culture has been reinforced and replenished through the contributions that immigrants and their descendants have made.