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Multicultural Barnsley – A very short history of migration

written by John Grayson, presented at the launch event of Barnsley Borough City of Sanctuary on 15th April 2015

Miners as ‘industrial Gypsies’ and Irish, Jewish and German arrivals

Barnsley like most industrializing parts of the UK in the 19th and 20th centuries attracted new workers from other parts of Britain and Europe. Irish linen workers were attracted to Barnsley and by the 1830’s were the leading activists in the Chartist movement in the town As the deep coal mines were sunk miners from the Black Country, Scotland and Wales were attracted to the mining villages around the town. In fact coal miners were often called ‘industrial Gypsies’ due to their regular migrations.

Jewish refugees from Poland were recorded from the 1890’s in Barnsley and the small Jewish community established a synagogue in Castlereagh Street in 1903 which closed in the period 1938 to 1946. The ‘High Festivals’ in the Jewish calendar were held in 1905 at the Arcade Hall in Barnsley.

By 1900 one of the popular takeaway shops of the period in South Yorkshire were the German pork butchers selling pork pies, sausages, and rissoles .In May 1915 when the German navy sank the Lusitania with over a thousand deaths, German riots broke out in South Yorkshire and a German pork butchers shop in Goldthorpe was attacked. Over two days a whole row of shops was destroyed and a shopkeeper who defended the pork butcher shot at the looters and killed one of them. 46 Goldthorpe rioters appeared at Doncaster on a range of theft charges.

Mosley and his Fascists in town – local protest

In the mid-thirties George Orwell heard Sir Oswald Mosley “bawl before an admiring crowd” at a British Union of Fascists rally in Barnsley. Orwell was dispirited by “the spectacle of grown men cheering on a brutish fraud” but confident that “the Blackshirts would get nowhere.”
At that same rally in Barnsley Civic Hall, Tommy Degan a Communist and a Barnsley NUM official challenged and heckled the fascist leader. The result was a near riot, at the end of which Tommy was beaten up and thrown out of the hall.

Romany Gypsies and Showmen

There is also local evidence of Romany Gypsies settling on sites or in housing in Barnsley for at least 100 years. The Gypsy families may have been connected to the same diaspora which brought Polish and East European Jews to Britain in many cases as migrants on their way to the United States who decided to stay. Or of course the Gypsy families may have been descendants from the earlier settlements in Britain going back some 500 years. Certainly by the 1930’s Showmen (some of whom were from Gypsy families) were organising regular Fairs in central Barnsley and setting up yards for their rides. Those same Showmen still provide the fairs around Barnsley although most of their yards are now in Doncaster or Sheffield.
The local Romany Gypsy families went on to establish farms and small holdings around Barnsley in the 1950’s, private family sites, and international businesses in carpets and other products.

Poles, Hungarians and Ukrainians – the first arrivals

In the early post Second World War period migration to the U.K. began with 160,000 Polish Service personnel, (120,000 of whom stayed and settled). Winston Churchill actually offered the Poles immediate citizenship as a reward for their ‘valiant’ support of British forces. In Barnsley a tent city set up in the grounds of Cannon Hall to house Polish and Ukrainian ex-service personnel and deportees, who were then moved on to work and housing. Many of them set up ‘adult schools’ for self-education. The new Polish workers after 2004 also brought self-help education to Barnsley with them. By the summer of 2013 local Barnsley Polish workers had established a Polska Biblioteka in the town centre in a trade- union ‘learning centre’.
Post war refugees were initially mainly from the Soviet bloc with a few Hungarians settling in Barnsley after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
In May 1956 Barnsley miners on a study tour of the Soviet Union briefly stayed in the mining town of Gorlovka (Horlivka) in eastern Ukraine. From these first contacts an official town twinning agreement was officially agreed in 1987. The NUM had received solidarity donations from the then Soviet Union in 1984/5. In more recent years links have continued with an independent Ukraine and in 2008 a ceremony was held in Barnsley Town Hall commemorating the Holodomor (Death by starvation) of millions of Ukrainians in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Currently Barnsley’s Acorn Brewery brews a Gorlovka Imperial Stout, and there is a Café Barnsley in the centre of Horlivka (Gorlovka) which is caught up in the current conflict in eastern Ukraine. In Marina Lewycka’s 2008 book “Two Caravans” Ukrainian migrant workers meet a miner’s son from Barnsley who remembers the Ukrainian miners in Barnsley.
In the 1950’s youth exchanges with the German town of Schwäbisch Gmünd led to a more traditional town twinning agreement with Barnsley in 1974 which continues to the present.

Indian and Pakistani doctors

Before the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962 and further restrictions in 1968 and 1971 people from the “West Indies” and South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Hong Kong) moved relatively freely to the UK. Other towns in South Yorkshire gradually built up small West Indian (African Caribbean) and Asian communities Barnsley attracted few of these migrants. Nearby towns resettled ‘Kenya and Uganda Asians’ in the 1970’s and the Northern Refugee Centre based in Sheffield was founded in the wake of arrivals of Vietnamese ‘boat people’ in the early 1990’s.

In 1963 Enoch Powell then Minister of Health set about recruiting young Indian and Pakistani doctors for the expanding NHS – 18,000 came and made up 30 per cent of NHS staff by 1971.Some Barnsley GP’s retiring from the early 2000’s were part of this migration – and again in 2014 the UK was again actively recruiting A&E doctors from India. There are probably some of them working at the Barnsley hospitals.
Certainly the very small ethnic minority population recorded in the 2011 Census has been historically been made up of NHS staff and business people in shops, food outlets and property.

Asylum seekers ‘dispersed’ to Barnsley

Barnsley Asylum and Migration Service started with the Belmont Induction Centre in June 1999 which welcomed “180 humanitarian evacuees from Kosovo”. From 1999 to the start of the privatised asylum housing contracts with G4S, the international security company in 2012/13, over 10,000 adults and children were accommodated at Belmont and /or in asylum housing.

There was early controversy regarding Belmont, but there were also local welcoming committees set up by local TARAS on council estates. This mixed picture of official and community welcomes for asylum seekers and some localised hostility characterised the life offered in Barnsley to asylum seekers from a remarkable number of countries. In December 2014 there were 39 different nationalities recorded for asylum seekers in Barnsley.

In 2001 the Council funded BBEMI (Barnsley Black and Ethnic Minority Initiative) was founded representing in the main the traditional small ethnic minority groups who had settled in the town – although it was some years before it started working with Gypsies and Travellers. Cooperation between BBEMI and the Council enabled an Autumn All Barnsley Diversity Festival to be launched from 2004 with a range of cultural events.

Gradually community based organisations were developed involving asylum seekers in the organisation BRAG (Barnsley Refugee Action Group) then BRASS (Barnsley Refugee Asylum Seekers Support) which still survives, and MARCO (Migrant Asylum Refugee Community Organisation).The Northern Refugee Centre supported projects in Barnsley and from 2007 SYMAAG (South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group),had members and activities in Barnsley. There were some high profile anti-deportation campaigns which demonstrated the community support for asylum seekers living in Barnsley but not all were successful.

European Roma in Barnsley

Since 2004 there has been the growth of European Roma settlement in South Yorkshire. There are already significant communities of mainly Slovak Roma in Rotherham and Sheffield. Many of the families come from a tradition of work in coal mining and steelworks in Eastern Slovakia and North East Hungary but have found employment mainly in the food processing and building industries here.
There are relatively few Slovak Roma in Barnsley but before 2007 there is evidence of Roma arriving in Barnsley as asylum seekers and some have stayed.
In 2003 there was a Bosnian Roma family and an Albanian Roma family living on the Westfield Council Estate in Worsborough. Hostility from residents on the estate resulted in the Bosnian Roma family being forced to leave the area. Small numbers of Roma families from Kosovo, Latvia and Lithuania have settled in Barnsley over the past decade, often first as asylum seekers and later as registered migrant workers after 2004.

The rise of the BNP

The political and social climate in Barnsley was profoundly influenced in the period 2004 to 2010 by the local rise of the Fascist organisation the BNP (British National Party).The Party never won a council seat but was able in some years to field candidates in all 21 council wards and attract 20 % or more of the local vote in some wards in local elections, The organisation had prominent stalls in the town centre for some two years.
In May 2009 the BNP had an MEP elected for Yorkshire and Humberside in the European Elections. In Barnsley the BNP were defeated in a council by-election in Lundwood in 2009 which if they had won would have meant them rather bizarrely holding the balance of power in a tied council.

A sustained political campaign against the BNP was organised through the Barnsley TUC (Trades Union Council) and by UAF (Unite Against Fascism).The Council reacted to the worsening climate of racism by producing publicity and information material aimed at ‘myth busting’ and emphasising ‘One Barnsley’ and the positive features of ‘diversity’. The Council had also launched a three year programme in 2005 ‘Investing in a multicultural Barnsley’ which was to address the needs and impacts of refugees who were opting to stay in Barnsley and the growing numbers of migrant workers who were coming to the town after the 2004 admission of Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic states into the EU.

In June 2008 a ‘Charter against Racism and Hate Crimes: a citizens commitment’ was launched by the Mayor of Barnsley and Mick Clapham M.P. with a send-off poem from Ian Macmillan and a gathering in the Cooper Gallery organised by the AdEd Knowledge company. The Charter was signed by over 1000 local prominent citizens and the public at large.
On May Day 2009 the Miners’ Hall hosted a gathering of around 100 asylum seekers, refugees and their organisations SYMAAG, and MARCO supported by the Barnsley TUC.

On May Day 2010 a Love Music Hate Racism festival was held in and around the town centre. Earlier that year on 20 February a brass band concert Brass Against Racism at the new Civic proclaimed that Barnsley was “brassed off with racism”. In the following winter of 2011 the Civic hosted a Folk Against Fascism event on 5 February.
The combined political, information and cultural campaigning over six years ensured that the national disintegration and collapse of the BNP was also mirrored in Barnsley.

“I do not want a prison guard as my landlord” G4S takes over asylum housing

In 2012 the Council website still proclaimed its pride in the ‘humanitarian housing’ it provided for ‘those fleeing from political oppression, torture, or natural disasters’ but in June of that year the Council lost asylum housing and the Home Office privatised the provision by allocating its biggest ever contract to the international security companies G4S, Serco and Reliance.G4S took the Yorkshire and North East contracts with no housing experience but a controversial human rights record in managing immigration detention centres, and prisons in the UK and in many other countries. At a SYMAAG protest meeting in February 2012 a Zimbabwean asylum housing tenant said simply “I do not want a prison guard as my landlord”

The record of G4S in asylum housing has been exposed by critical reports from the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee and the Public Accounts Committee and the company has been fined for its failures on the contract. Local campaigns to remove G4S from the asylum housing contracts continue.

The gathering refugee crisis

The United Nations has in 2014 declared the worst refugee crisis since 1945. Millions of refugees are being displaced from Syria, the Middle East, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and now sub-Saharan Africa and Yemen.
The UK has shut its doors to this growing humanitarian crisis. With 3000 people dying in the Mediterranean in 2014 desperately trying to find asylum in Europe, the UK has responded with even higher fences at Calais.

In Barnsley the few who manage to get to the UK to claim asylum have meant an increase in numbers over the past two years and chaos in the G4S response to the modest increase with asylum seekers placed in hotels or forced to share rooms in overcrowded accommodation. In February 2015 there were 463 asylum seekers in Barnsley in 134 G4S private sector properties.

Once again as a toxic political climate has built up around the 2015 General Election and local elections with xenophobic and Islamaphobic rhetoric from UKIP and elements in the mainstream parties it is ethnic minorities, migrant workers and asylum seekers who have been in the firing line with an increase in racist hate crimes. Asylum seekers are again being demonised in Barnsley – declaring Barnsley a City of Sanctuary could be a useful first step in stemming the tide of intolerance currently threatening the values and beliefs of the majority of people in Barnsley.