The intention behind this work is to explore the diversity of the City and see if there can be any picture painted which helps express where we are at present and a few thoughts for where the City might be in the future.
As a Southampton Resident.
January 1990 I set foot in Southampton looking for work and took a room at the YMCA where I stayed for around 7 months. The experience in the hostel brought me in contact with many personalities, residents and staff and in the main was a positive time. Without a doubt I would not have left the city for a two year adventure across Europe had I not made friends with one of the residents.
After sweating out life in Southern Spain odd jobbing I again returned to the City and settled down and it became my home. I think the city can be testing but outsiders can also fit in as there is an abundance of diverse life and so many folk get a chance to be part of it.
Having lived in various parts of the City over almost three decades I know that Southampton has many stories to it and no one person will ever know them all.
One of the most probable reasons that Southampton has such an international diversity of people is that since Roman times it has been a sea going port. For two thousand years people from those trading nations finding they were living in the City learnt to cooperate and live together. It is true that major ports are far more tolerant of cultural differences. Even in S.Africa during the apartheid from1948 until the early-1990s the police had a more relaxed way of applying the discriminatory laws within the major shipping ports.
The S.African laws focused on skin colour and divided the nation through apartheid (a system of segregation), which ensured people of white facial features were given far greater foot holds in power and lifestyles; all with the help through the decades of white supremacist governments voted in by the white population.
In 1992 the white population voted to remove the apartheid laws and the wider population were allowed to vote in 1994. This was a great signal to the rest of the world that societies were to be more inclusive and there was to be no discrimination made on colour in any country. In practice there are many countries that use the law to prejudice their national religions and culture. It is the hope of those law makers to be popular and appease the majority of their people at the expense of minorities.
Ch4 Reality Documentary.
The successive waves of immigration into Southampton have helped to create a mixed bag of people from all over the world and today the famous Derby Road which was to be the location for a television show called Immigration Street still has the diversity which attracted it to the attention of Love Productions, the company also behind Benefits Street which was filmed in Birmingham.
Early in 2015 the area was under focus and the nation’s media started to camp out there so as to get a scoop on what was a controversial show and there was money to be made snooping into the lives of one of Southampton’s most multicultural areas.
The subject started to turn toxic and the local police were asked to investigate an array of crimes but could only focus on one alleged assault on a participant. Police iterated that the area was normally an area of low crime and Satvir Kaur one of the local councillors confirmed their statement.
Councillor Kaur was brought up in the area and is either second or third generation from Indian descent. She objected to the Channel 4 show and told the media that most of the people were born in the area and the proposed title was nonsense. Kaur believed the show had already created havoc in the area and questioned why Channel 4 wanted to destroy a community just for the sake of television ratings.
By February the show had been pulled and the headline was ‘Immigration Street, the road that sent CH 4 packing’. So as to cover the production company’s expenses a one hour episode was aired and many residents felt it made Southampton look awful, giving the wrong intimation on what is a friendly city.
The financial divide.
Like any English City there are the rich and poor areas. What helps is that within most areas there are some overlaps where affluent residents are housed quite close to those living hand to mouth.
The ever increasing homeless community within the city is mostly seen sleeping in the very doorways of shops where wealthy shoppers go to find some stuff. An attempt at communicating with a small crowd of homeless in the beginning of March reminded me how paranoid and torn people can get when living on the streets. However, many do keep their sanity and can chat quite freely once a feeling of trust has been achieved.
There is contact between people of differing levels of wealth and no doubt some characters manage to climb up and out of very tough situations; but there are those, perhaps through addictions or states of mind, who are never going to reach the dizzy heights of Rishi Sunak .
Sunak the latest Chancellor of the Exchequer who is the son of a Southampton GP and Sunak’s mother owned and managed a local chemist shop had the good fortune to be bright and was supported by his affluent parents to study at Winchester. He is an old Wykehamist having studied at the boarding school of Winchester College.
Sunak today you could argue is part of the global mega rich as he now is married to the daughter of Narayana Murthy an Indian billionaire. He still has his family connections to the city; they live just outside the boundary in Chilworth. Southampton. Sunak when he was much younger did spend time serving as a waiter in Kutis ( probably when it was in town on Oxford St). Today the Chancellor is handing out £3m to help put up a 40m high Spitfire monument, just within cat swinging distance of where Kutis Restaurant is at the Royal Pier.
Readers will also be aware of billions Sunak handed over to business on budget day and now further billions to offset the damage to the economy due to the coronavirus.
Indeed Southampton has a vast spread between rich and poor and there are many cultural differences. This is a great city for learning how to muddle into an international mix of people.
Sport and Communities.
Many of us define our being by the very religion that we follow. In the main the country supports Christian doctrines with the Queen being head of the Church of England. Much of UK law is taken from Christianity and it is traditional to swear on the Bible when giving evidence to a court of law, other holy book options are now available.
In Southampton there are plenty of churches a few mosques, three gurdwaras, a couple of friends meeting houses and at least one Hindu Vedic temple. Spoilt for choice where to hang out for some worship and all these sites are community hubs where people can find refuge from the daily stress of modern living. An alternative place of worship can be found at the Saints FC St Mary’s football stadium where the main entertainment is football. However acts like Rick Astley, Robbie Williams and Bon Jovi have set up stage there. Like all modern stadiums the venue is disabled friendly and has lifts to move people up and down the various levels.
The football club likes to promote the Saints Foundation. Previously it was Saints in the Community, the club visits schools so as to inspire youngsters to be part of something. Anyone can be part of a Southampton football scene as there are hundreds of players entering five aside teams for social and more serious football. Southampton F.C. supports a women’s team in division 1 and the Saturday football league attracts local amateur clubs from the area and it includes a veteran’s league.
Within the Bassett area of the city there is an extensive sports ground with field and track facilities and a ski slope, while Millbrook Rugby Football Club and Southampton.R.F.C. are within a mile or so of each other and the two can be confused.
Many years ago the police set up some caravans on one of the club pitches and somehow broadcast to the local community that travellers had set up camp at the club. Soon after there were a bundle of calls from local Redbridge residents reporting various crimes and the possible connection with travellers. The exercise was to investigate how many genuine calls there are when travellers set up camp in a community. Southampton does have an ongoing problem with travellers seeking land for seasonal sites.
The conflict of religion and sexual preference has been a long established debate but things have improved and there is especially now a bigger embrace of the LGBT+ community in the city. One of the Southampton’s mosques, the city’s Medina mosque is actually just behind the Edge night club.
The club has been in St Mary’s for as long as I can remember and even when there is an economic down turn, The Edge always looks bright and colourful especially from the outside with rainbow colours painted on the purple walls. This is one of the S.Coast larger gay clubs and is happy to entertain customers who especially enjoy mixers. There is a bar, the London Hotel on Terminus Terrace which serves an array of beers; they promote themselves as ‘the straightest gay bar’.
The gay scene has become much more open in the last few decades and in Southampton apart from perhaps a few BREXIT incidents where hate crimes and assaults on same sex couples have been recorded, we now regularly see couples holding hands without fear of being persecuted. Part of the increased integration is probably due to the Pride event held every year in the city. This year there is also a People’s pride. From current advertising the organisers say,’ Pride event with a focus on inclusivity, protest and anti-commercialisation, with a programme that includes live music, entertainment, charity and community group stalls, a quiet zone, poetry and more’. It is a real attempt at inclusiveness as I understand that there are no charges for any stalls from organisations exhibiting at this event at the 1865 club and outside at Palmerston Park.
Veggie and Vegan Community.
Decades ago people who wanted to lead more ethical lifestyles avoided meat and often spent time in restaurants negotiating a plate of food comprised of vegetables. Few places were vegetarian and veganism was the lifestyle of a very small number of residents in Southampton.
One group who’s aim is to support people who are looking for a sense of togetherness is Solent Vegetarians and Vegans. This group for decades has run stalls and handed out information to the public. Members can subscribe to an online newsletter and be involved in activities in which like minded people get together and exchange ideas on recipes, cloths, lifestyles and sometimes politics.
The scene in Southampton has fast expanded and there is even a vegan supermarket in the City called Rice Up. It is an independent whole foods grocery store and is run using the cooperative model compared to having private ownership. Profits are all ploughed back into the store so that it can be even more successful.
With most restaurants having at least a couple of vegetarian items on the menu it is far easier for folk to eat out. Vegans often meet at the newly established Cafe Thrive, which is trying to compete with the likes of the fast food market; amongst many options you can buy a burger there. The Art House in Southampton has also encouraged vegans to meet in the city by cooking up superb Sunday roasts for many years.
All the while there is a flip side to the promising forecast for people following plant based diets. Southampton in the main has cafes and restaurants catering for the less ethical population and today it has crossed my mind if the Coronavirus associated with meat markets in China will help put another nail in the coffin of meat eating around the world.
Some thought for the future.
Ideally I expect the likes of Southampton Cycling Campaign to bring about a sea change and like China once was; Southampton may see hundreds of cyclists, daily, confidently swerving around mini roundabouts and taking exercise during the commute to work. The whole concept of having a healthier city means many more people have to take that risk and be part of any potential cycling revolution.
For those not able to cycle, the roads need to be free for affordable public transport which is slowly become less polluting. The organisation Transition Towns, fighting for radical ideas to be put into practice in Southampton will have helped the Council to find a multitude of places to plant fruit trees and help green the city. Many more residents will grow their own vegetables and hopefully be practicing permaculture. All residents will fully understand the value of recycling those things like food waste as our council will have put together comprehensive collection systems.
We are slowly seeing greater pedestrianisation within the city. Our congested roads will slowly be fume free, not just as electric cars are about to make a break through, but because in the main you do not need a car to wonder around the city. There will be access for private hire taxis and perhaps self driving electric cars will have some access to areas within the environmentally cleaner city where walkers, cyclists and folk using mobility scooters will all feel the benefit.
The internet already has changed the makeup of our city’s streets, many shops like Woolworths, Maplins and Mothercare have sunk and Laura Ashley is the latest casualty. With all those empty premises we fast need ideas on how to fill the space. Frequently residents ponder if Southampton could be like Brighton with smaller shops like those famous lanes within that city.
This city does not try to compete with Brighton, by far the most famous ethical city in the Uk, but Southampton now has greater standing and who knows Greta may pay us a visit some day.
Thanks to Helen Ploughman who reminded me about the CH4 show and Katherine Barbour for reminding me to include the Pride events and advising me on some neater structure.
Many facts verified via Google within the i Newspaper and an array of Wiki pages.
Thesuarus.com is particularly useful.