Come together: Lessons from Bedford on reaching out to Britain’s most isolated minorities
The town of Bedford is an ideal case study of migrant integration at work in the UK, offering examples both of successful policies and good community relations, and of the barriers that prevent certain groups from successfully integrating. This report presents the evidence for how simple adaptations to existing service provision can make a significant difference to the lives of these hardest-to-reach people.
Migrant integration is one of Britain’s most politically sensitive topics. Yet what facilitates and impedes integration, and even the definition of what ‘integration’ actually means, are difficult to pin down. This report looks at the town of Bedford, to gain an insight into what works, and what doesn’t, in creating a socially cohesive town. Having had similar levels of immigration as most towns and cities in Britain, and given its diverse population and conventional socioeconomic profile, Bedford is an instructive case study to investigate integration in Britain today.
The government recently commissioned Dame Louise Casey to undertake a review into the integration of Britain’s most isolated communities. That review raised alarm at the poor state of integration in Britain. While it made some important observations, it offered few concrete suggestions for what can be done. This report looks at how Bedford’s residents have made integration work for their community. We argue that Bedford’s experience shows how concrete, empowering interventions can boost integration.
Some factors make Bedford a well-integrated place: the pace of demographic change has been steady and there has been good local leadership. Local people have made small adaptations to make the process of integration easier for newcomers. Community groups have proven resilient.
But for some parts of Bedford’s community, integration has been more difficult. There is some evidence that enclaves are starting to develop. Bedford can try to head off these developments – by using planning legislation to foster ethnic diversity, for example.
The least integrated groups include eastern European migrant workers – particularly men who tend to socialise with others of their nationality and may be in Bedford transiently – and some groups of Asian Muslim women. Our focus groups with women from this hard-to-reach group found that household responsibilities, very low levels of confidence, traditional views of women’s roles in the family and little understanding of the options available combined to inhibit many of these women from engaging with wider Bedford society.
Some have argued that these women should be compelled to integrate, and penalised if they do not; yet our research found that the most effective strategy to overcoming this lack of integration is through actions to empower these women to overcome their obstacles. Simple adaptations to existing provision have been effective in Bedford, making a significant difference to many lives. Further small, sensitive adaptations to service provision could help build levels of confidence and mitigate family members’ concerns about women’s integration. These empowering adaptations offer instructive examples to other parts of the country, where there are concerns that some parts of the community are not integrated.