About: Multiculturalism in Leicester

Leicester is often heralded as a model example of a multicultural city – and for good reason. According to the 2011 Census, only 45.1 per cent of the city’s population identify as White British, a very different figure to the national average for England, where 79.8 per cent of the population are White British[1]. The city has the largest Asian population in the UK and is also home to significant African, Caribbean and Eastern European communities.[2] Despite the plurality of cultures in Leicester, there seems to be relatively little racial tension, leading to it being dubbed “Britain's most ethnically harmonious city”[3]

To understand Leicester’s multicultural nature, it is important to understand what multicultural really means. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “of or relating to a society of a number of cultural groups [especially] in which the distinctive cultural identity of each group is maintained.”[4] This means that multiculturalism allows different groups to live together, without being forced to assimilate or abandon their cultural heritage.



Why is Leicester so multicultural?

The current multicultural nature of Leicester is unsurprising, considering the city’s history of receiving migrants from all over the world. The nineteenth century saw the arrival of Jewish, Irish and Italian migrants, who were joined by Belgian refugees during the First World War. The 1930s and 40s saw the arrival of refugees from Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, as well as a second wave of Irish migrants. In the 1950s, the city’s Caribbean population arrived, predominantly from Antigua and Jamaica. Migrants from the Indian subcontinent began to settle in Leicester in the 1960s and their numbers were greatly bolstered by the arrival of East African Asians in the early 1970s.

In August 1972, Ugandan president Idi Amin announced that Uganda’s entire Asian population had 90 days to leave the country, accusing them of sabotaging the economy. Upon hearing that many Ugandan Asians intended to move to Leicester, the city council published a notice in the Ugandan Argus newspaper, warning potential settlers to stay away. The advert failed to dissuade migrants, instead making them more aware of Leicester. Nearly a quarter of Ugandan refugees who came to Britain in 1972 settled in Leicester[5]. The rapid demographic change led to racial tensions in the city. The far-right political party The National Front gained popularity in Leicester and there were clashes between nationalists and anti-fascists throughout the 1970s. Following inner city riots in 1981, the city council developed policies to promote equality and multiculturalism.

Since the 1980s, Leicester has seen the arrival of many small migrant groups, including those from Vietnam and the former Yugoslavia, as well as refugees from Monserrat. During the 1990s, the Somali community grew significantly, with migrants moving from the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway. Since the enlargement of the European Union in 2004, a significant amount of Eastern Europeans have arrived in Leicester.

The resulting cultural mélange is what makes Leicester uniquely multicultural, multi-faith and multi-ethnic. The variety of places of worship, festivals, shops, restaurants and so on reflects Leicester’s multicultural nature. The city is home to the first consecrated Jain temple in the Western world, Diwali celebrations that welcome over 30,000 people each year, Polish bars, African hair salons, Turkish restaurants and much more.


A multicultural utopia?

Despite many positive reports on the multicultural nature of Leicester, it is debateable whether multiculturalism goes far enough. Although Leicester is diverse and harmonious, it is the tenth most segregated city in Britain.[6] It appears that different cultural, ethnic and religious groups live alongside, but not amongst, each other. In order to avoid cultural groups living parallel but separate lives, organisations such the Society of Intercultural Understanding Leicester (SICUL) recommend that the city council support interculturalism rather than multiculturalism. Explaining the difference between multiculturalism and interculturalism, Tim Haq of SICUL says “multiculturalism…highlights the differences between the communities. Interculturalism says ‘right, let’s look at the similarities between the communities.’”[7] Rather than cultural groups living separate, segregated lives, interculturalism would mean a more intergrated society with increased cultural understanding.


It is undeniable that Leicester is a multicultural city, home to cultural groups from all over the world. However, it remains to be seen if Leicester can become intercultural, a place where different groups mix.

To find out more about interculturalism, click here.

To find out more about historical articles from Leicester Mercury regarding multiculturalism, click here.



[1] 2011 Census data taken from Leicester City Council (2015) ‘Who we are: ethnic group’ [read here]

[2] As above.

[3] Quote from ‘Side by side’ article by Esther Addley for The Guardian, 1 January 2001 [read here]

[4] Definition from the Oxford English Dictionary [read here]

[5] Figures from page 82 of Urban Housing Segregation of Minorities in Western Europe and the United States by Elizabeth D. Huttman. Published in Durham, North Carolina by Duke University Press.

[6] Ranking from the State of the English Cities Report (2001), cited by Leicester City Council (2008) in the Diversity of Leicester: A Demographic Profile, May 2008.

[7] Quote from an interview with Fayola Francis, 19 March 2015.

About: Multiculturalism in Leicester