Sunday, 11 March 2012

Bury Park: one of Luton's redeeming features

So many attractive features mark Britain’s most beautiful towns and cities: the dreaming spires of Oxford, the hills and the sea of Bristol, the majestic architecture among the volcanic structures of Edinburgh. In contrast, Luton, where I live, relies on its redeeming features. Its a ‘but’ town, as in ‘not a very pretty town centre, but Wardown Park is lovely.’

Two recent TV documentaries took a close look at Luton. Both, I suppose inevitably, focused on two types of extremism in the town: a form of Islamic fundamentalism that comes close to endorsing terrorism, and at the opposite end of the spectrum, the English Defence League, whose violence is never far below the surface, and which was born in this town.

Proud and Prejudiced focused principally on the hostility between the two groups. An early shocking scene had a follower of Sayful Islam slapping the leader of the EDL, Tommy Robinson (not his real name: his chosen nom de guerre is that of a football hooligan, which probably tells you as much as anything else about his movement). The documentary did make clear that the Sayful Islam group are completely rejected by the vast majority of Luton Moslems and certainly by mainstream Moslems.

Stacey Dooley investigates: my home town fanatics was more concerned with Luton as a whole and had the merit of laying far more stress on the fact that the Islamic extremists represent a tiny minority of the Moslem community: they can perhaps muster a few dozen for a demonstration out of a community close to 30,000 strong.

Both films spent a lot of time in the area known as Bury Park where most of the population of South Asian extraction lives. What struck me as curious was how often Tommy Robinson said of the area that it didn't look like England. That's just beyond me. Where does he think it looks like? 

What's not English about Bury Park?
Take a look at the picture. The terraced houses. The traffic on the left. And a nice touch in the photo: on the left is the building with the COGIC sign: the Church of God in Christ. Right in the middle of the so-called Moslem area.

What does anywhere have to look like to look English? Take Oxford. Compare it to Liverpool. Which looks like England? Even in a single city like London: compare underprivileged Hackney with overprivileged Mayfair. They don't have a lot in common but they're both definitely in England.

Bury Park is a completely English neighbourhood. Just one that happens to have a large Moslem and Hindu population. But though it contains a small number of extremists, overall far from being a problem for the town, Bury Park is one of those features that redeems so much in Luton.

Just beyond the Church of God in the photo is A-One Dosa which serves about the best South Indian food I've ever enjoyed. And it isn't just the food. There are little specialist shops, there are huge places selling clothes or bikes or household goods. When you can't find it anywhere else, you're practically bound to find it in Bury Park. And the service will be at least polite, more usually friendly.

That's the key characteristic of the place: its cordiality. After another memorable meal at A-One Dosa a few days before Christmas, we were surprised by the queues outside a Halal butcher. Danielle talks to anyone so she asked what they were waiting for.

‘Turkeys of course,’ said one of the women. I don't remember whether she was Hindu or Moslem: there were both in the queue.

‘So — do you celebrate Christmas?’ asked Danielle.

‘Everyone around us celebrates it,’ one of the other women explained, 
‘so why shouldn't we?’

That's the spirit of Bury Park. All those people who tell us that multi-culturalism has failed need to come here and see for themselves how well it’s working.

And they could enjoy a great meal at the same time.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you.....I love being in Bury Park, the best place to have more authentic food, enjoy a bustling street, and stop to chat with your friends.Just what any English high street should be?

David Beeson said...

Absolutely - full of good cheer and great shops. What more could anyone want? A real poster for the English high street, as you say.

EthanBryan said...

This is a good way of communicating all the issues in the few words on a single platform. airport parking at luton

David Beeson said...

Many thanks – I appreciate the feedback