Posts Tagged ‘Savile Town’

Dewsbury Market

Dewsbury Market

Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

The town of Dewsbury has a population of 56,030, with the figure remaining steady over the last forty years. It sits on the trans-pennine rail link that travels between Newcastle and Manchester, a ten minute journey west takes citizens to Leeds, whilst to the East there is Huddersfield and, to the north, Bradford. Dewsbury’s prominent location on within the rail network had traditionally been acknowledged as an important tool to attract trade and commece. Those who dwelled outside the town centre in one of the town’s sub-districts would rarely have to venture more than a mile to pick up anything they needed. It’s a memory shared by many across the country who grew up during the early to mid-twentieth century.
The town was founded on its manufacture of heavy woollen materials and was very much the centre of the nation’s “shoddy” and fine “worsted” cloth industry. The hope and feeling was that this would continue to be the case and safeguard the future of Dewsbury. Forty years later, the onset of globalisation has well and truly put paid to this optimistic, yet perhaps understanable, prophecy. By 1968, a developing economy based around a number of new industrial fields would presumably steer towns like Dewsbury in the right direction. Predictably though, the international economic system within which the town, like every other in the western world, now resides uprooted the defining industries of the country’s manufacturing centres and planted the seeds where labour was cheap and workers were less unionised.

The trains which brought visitors to Dewsbury now take workers and shoppers out. One of the defining symbols of 21st century Dewsbury, and the various other satellite towns of Leeds, Huddersfield and Bradford are the mill-conversion flats dotted within a mile radius of its railway station. The premises where the men and women once toiled at the loom to cement Dewsbury’s reputation as one of the manufacturing capitals of Europe are now little more than sleeping quarters for white collar commuters.

The retail and leisure distractions of Huddersfield and Leeds would strangle the life out of the comparably meagre and humble offerings of Dewsbury. Most consider the final nail in the coffin within which Dewsbury as a retail destination now lies was hammered in by WalMart Stores, Inc. In 2002 it paid for the construction of an Asda supermarket which churns out clothes, televisions, CDs, DVDs, stationary, books, jewellry, mobile phones, home appliances and all manner of consumables at a price that the likes of Jack Senior’s sweet shop and Gerald Lee’s gent’s outfitter could not get anywhere near. The rhythm may be bleak but it’s the beat that the earners and spenders of Dewsbury all dance to.

The town is still famous for its market, with coach trips arriving from across the north of England for the second hand sellers on a Wednesday and almost 300 stalls which open on a Saturday. Major retailers like Marks & Spencer and Woolworths which were once considered part of the furniture in the town centre for decades have closed over the last couple of years along with a worrying amount of local retailers. Other household names including WH Smith and Argos do maintain a presence in the town centre against a retail backdrop which is, these days, dominated by discount stores, takeaway food outlets, cafes and the odd specialist hobby shop which fight through every month against the trend of dwindling trade.

Like many towns across the United Kingdom, much of the industrial, retail and residential regeneration has taken place on the outskirts. Matalan, JJB Sports, Next, Sainsbury’s and Halford’s occupy large units with ample car parking space whilst the aformentioned mill-conversion flats continue to sprout. Even further afield, on the border Dewsbury shares with Leeds, lies a recently built business park with over a dozen units occupied by national and international manufacturing and service corporations. Similar estates of a smaller scale have also sprung up on various plots of land dotted about the town previously occupied by the heavy woollen mills of the town’s heyday. It is these units along with Asda and the town’s biggest employer, Carlton Cards, which provide a large percentage of jobs in the town.

In the gap left by the shoddy and worsted cloth industry, there developed a new industry which today, despite not enjoying the same reputation as the woollen trade did, generates jobs and industry in the area. That field is bed manufacturing, a market spearheaded by the local Muslim population. Firms like Kozee Sleep and Highgate Beds have been established for over twenty years and are based in an area which has been aptly nicknamed “The Sleepy Valley”.

This trend of trade and commerce being pulled away from the town centre has been apparent for some years now, the latest example being the construction of a shopping park in Ravensthorpe dominated by national discount chains which target the demographic of low-income families inhabiting the surrounding community. As mentioned, this is a pattern recognisable across the UK but with Dewsbury being within striking distance of Huddersfield and Leeds, the challenges it faces as a retail destination are greater than most.

The Tetley Stadium - Home to Dewsbury Rams.

One of the more postive aspects of the town’s reputation comes in the form of its Rugby League tradition. In 1973, Dewsbury was the home of the best rugby league team in the country and, whilst the Rams, as they are now known, have yet to recapture this glory, the area remains a hotbed for the sport and a conveyer belt of talent churning out elite athletes and national stars. There are five well established clubs in the town, four of which have teams at almost every age group from seven years old upwards.

The town is divided into several regions. To the north there is Dewsbury Moor, Crackenedge and Staincliffe. To the east there is Eastborough, Chickenley, Shaw Cross and Hanging Heaton. South is Thornhill, Thornhill Lees, Savile Town and Whitley and west, Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury Moor, Westtown and Scout Hill. Most of the residents of Ravensthorpe and Savile Town live in the Victorian terraced houses built around the mills of industrial Dewsbury whereas the population of the other suburban districts live in a combination of those terraces, c1960s semi-detached homes and the council estates built in the post-WWII years.

There are four high schools in Dewsbury: Earlsheaton, St. John Fisher, Thornhill, Westborough and Birkdale. All of which, are non-selective, and attract a cross section of students from across the town. The latter two, by virtue their location, are attended by a high percentage of students of Asian origin. The percentage of students achieveing at least 5 A*-C GCSEs (including English and Maths) at each respective school is 42%, 39%, 34%, 28% and 20%e. These figures compare less than favourably with the national average of 47.6%.

Dewsbury is divided into three constituency regions: Dewsbury West, Dewsbury South and Dewsbury East. Dewsbury South and Dewsbury West are home to the majority of town’s Muslim population whilst Dewsbury East, somewhat isolated from the other residential districts is almost exclusively populated by the mostly religiously apathetic white Europeans.

Voter turnout at the last council elections in Dewsbury East was 40% (14th out of the 23 wards in Kirklees council area), In Dewsbury West it was 48% and 51% in Dewsbury East (The 2nd and highest voter turnout percentages overall). Dewsbury West is in Kirklees’ highest population density category (31.6 – 41.2 persons per hectare) whilst East and South are placed in the 2nd and 3rd categories, out of four, with 21.9 to 31.6 and 12.2 to 21.9 persons per hectare respectively.

Whilst unemployment figures are difficult to calculate, the percentage of citizens claiming job seekers allowance (based on the median figures of each designated category) for Dewsbury East, South and West are 2.25%, 3.2% and 4.1% respectively. Just over a third of citizens in Dewsbury West and South receive council tax benefit while just over a quarter do in Dewsbury East. This compares starkly with nearby Mirfield where the figure is just 13.9%.

Dewsbury’s infant mortality rate is more than double the national average, a statistic attributed to smoking and alcohol consumption whilst pregnant and the general ill health of the women carrying the baby. There are also links to this statistic with the conception of a child between first cousins. A child brought up in Dewsbury is also twice as likely, on average, to have rotten teeth as any other child in the country.

Politically, Dewsbury is hard to define. I have only ever lived to see a Labour MP representing the constituency of “Dewsbury and Mirfield”. Ann Taylor was in parliament from from 1987 to 2005 before Burnley born Shahid Malik won enough votes to become the area’s first Muslim MP. Dewsbury East, West and South are all represented by Labour councillors as well but the area is also recognised as a key region for the British National Party with Colin Auty elected councillor of Dewsbury East in 2006 before leaving the party two years later.

Revellers at the famed Dewsbury riot - started by the far right.

The ethnic and cultural make-up of the town has changed dramatically over the last few hundred years. In the early part of the nineteenth century, Dewsbury welcomed migrants from Ireland who came looking for work. They initially settled in the north west of the town before dispersing into the rest of the community over the next half century.

Later, during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, migrants from Southern Asia would arrive in the former industrial towns of England also looking for work. Like the Catholic Irish migrants who sought to create a microcosm of their homeland, the Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi Muslims, finding residence in the terraced houses of Ravensthorpe and Savile Town, would also bring aspects of their “old” life with them. Initially this took the humble form of a prayer mat in over crowded bedrooms but, as the Muslim community grew, it would lead to the foundation of mosques and madrassas, many of which exist in their original form today.

Tom Coates

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Read a Religion and a Town Part 1 & Part 2

The issue of Islam in Dewsbury is one which inspires debate around every corner. The recurring presence of these two words, a religion and a town, alongside each other in national newspaper articles, blogs and political propaganda is testament to the significance the issue will play in the future. With incident comes opinion, analysis, new ideas and sometimes the re-enforcement of old ones.

Danny Lockwood was one of the founders of ‘The Press’, a newspaper which covers Dewsbury, Batley and the other districts sandwiched between Huddersfield, Leeds and Bradford. His weekly column ‘Ed Lines: Life in Black and White’ frequently addresses the role Islam plays in the town and indeed the country. In the 12/09/08 edition, Lockwood expresses his frustration at exceptions made for Muslims who “go to school looking like Zorro” in response to news that a local alopecia sufferer was told to remove his baseball cap by teachers. The guidelines an alopecia suffering student was made to adhere to and the wearing of the hijab by Muslim women are not related in any way but it is comparisons like this one that are made around the town by non-Muslims who are displeased with the “special treatment” local followers of Islam are said to receive.

The Hijab often provokes debate

The common theme with many of these opinions is that, conversely, the local non-Muslim British population are treated like second class citizens. When examples of religious dispensation are brought to light, the stories are often inter-laced with tales of the local white population suffering a perceived injustice – even if it isn’t necessarily related to, or the fault of, the religion in question, as seen above.

The wearing of the hijab, particularly in instances when only the eyes or less are visible, is probably, along with the town’s iconic Mosque minarets, one of the most recognised symbols of Islam on a local scale. MP for Dewsbury Shahid Malik advised Aisha Azmi, the hijab-wearing teaching assistant who was sacked, to simply “leave it alone and get on with life”. An acknowledgement by the Muslim politician perhaps, that the wearing of the veil can and will, on occasion, conflict with life amongst non-Muslims and that, in such instances, the needs of the many outweigh the customs of the few.

There are, considering the diversity of Dewsbury, very few examples of culture clashes of this nature. This can be explained, in part, by the isolated nature of the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. The concentration in population of both races is a result, according to many, of the ‘ghettoisation’ of several of the town’s sub-districts. Ghettoisation refers to the idea that social groups, particularly ethnic minorities, take residence in sub-dstricts as a result of social, religious or economic pressure. As identified, much of the Muslim population of Dewsbury live alongside each other in Savile Town, Ravensthorpe and parts of Thornhill.

Don Pryke, 51, is a local self-employed businessman who was brought up in Ravensthorpe, he recalls the initial years of Muslim settlement in his locality: “The general feeling was ‘blimey! who are these People? and why have they come to Ravensthorpe?’ “In the early days, the two communities never mixed or talked at all so one side’s knoweldge of the other came from within their own community.”

The council houses of Chickenley, Dewsbury Moor and Thornhill were built to accomodate the ‘baby-boom’ post-WWII generation but the “homes for heroes” scheme failed to foresee the demographic shift about to change the face of much of the nation. What resulted was Muslim families moving in to the cheapest houses available to them, local jornalist Danny Lockwood adds: “It’s normal for any migrant community to gather together for lots of understandable social, family and cultural reasons. People of any relgion are generally motivated by the same human needs. This is a social phenomenon, not a religious one.”

Carl Morphett is a member of Kirklees Unity, a group founded to oppose the BNP on a local level. He belives that there are more serious contributory factors: “Islamophobia, intolerance and ignorance on both sides of one another’s lifestyle and culture contribute to the trend of ghettoisation. With Islamophobia in particular on the rise, the pattern will continue, which can only be a bad thing.”

Yakub Sultan is a Muslim working part-time in Dewsbury and studying at the University of Huddersfield. The lifestyle of a typical university student, many would say, is not compatible with the lifestyle of a follower of Islam: “Religion very much plays a major part in my life but I don’t feel the two conflict with one another. This is because as a Muslim, my faith guides me through many of the choices I make.” It’s clear from what Yakub is saying, that the society he lives in presents few obstacles for him to overcome as a practicing Muslim: “I feel very comfortable as a Muslim in the area I live in, the common traits of Muslims and non-Muslims away from religion are becoming more similar making life for everyone easier”. It is the common ground shared between the religiously devout and apathetic, those optimistic of true integration and co-operation believe, upon which we can lay the foundations of a truly diverse and peaceful community.

This is a view also held by the Bishop Anthony Robinson who has been the co-chairman of Kirklees Inter-Faith for over a decade: “Great strides have been made over the last five years between Christianity and Islam, based primarily on values the two religions share. “The Muslims of the local area need friends from across the community and the religious buildings of both faiths are shared for community projects” Kirklees Inter-faith, although independent from Kirklees council, serves as a key component of the area’s strategy to build bridges between religions. The group meets and discusses issues concerning all religions and organises projects involving local mosques, churches and synagogues. Kaushar Tai was the founding chairman of the group: “We are a voluntary organisation which promotes harmony between faiths. One idea which was put into practice was to take religious learning out of the classroom and into the places of worship themselves”.

We have seen evidence that compatibility, despite the cohesive setbacks the town endures, is possible and already a reality for many. But what can Dewsbury, as a diverse town, do to develop this ideal? We have already examined the isolated nature of Muslim and non-Muslim communities and what led to their being but, like the Irish migrants of over a century ago, what hope is there of future generations of communities living in harmony with each other?

Kirklees Unity’s Carl Morphett suggests: “As I grew older and wiser I realised that the local Asians were no different from me. I am keen to learn about cultures other than my own and believe that the school curriculum should encourage this from an early age” The idea that progress relies heavily upon knowledge of the beliefs of one another is shared by local businessman Don Prkye, who despite rating his current knowledge of Islam as ‘4/10’, has a desire to learn more: “Incidents like 9/11 can create a lot of distrust between communities which often manifests itself as resentment on a local level. “A Q&A column in the local newspapers, for example, would be of interest to many people and would help those outside the Muslim community learn more about their neighbours.”

Local journalist Danny Lockwood is optimistic about the future: “History shows us that in time these communities disperse gradually into the mainstream and there is already evidence of that happening in Dewsbury. “Progress is not helped though by international political pressure between Islam and western democracies.”

Clearly, the international turmoil Muslims around the world find themselves in, not least of all its conflict with the west, do little for towns like Dewsbury. But what of the obstacles that exist on a local level? Are there people in the town who don’t want multi-culturalism or integration? A song entitled “Savile Town: Where’s it Gone?”, penned by then-BNP candidate Colin Auty, alleges that the Asian sub-district is rife with drug dealers and paedophiles and decries the closure of churches, pubs and butchers in the area. Fellow BNP counillor Nick Cass defended these sentiments: “We make no apologies for this song as every word is true.”

The BNP’s popularity hinges on the level of conflict between religious communities. The closer Dewsbury gets to being a peaceful, religiously tolerant town, the less votes the party will receive. So, naturally, its in the interests of BNP members to associate society’s ills with the ethnic minority community, usually without any consideration of contributory factors or statistics. If one of the mainstream parties expresses its displeasure at the lack of something, it will look at how to correct the problem. In the case of the British National Party however, its displeasure at the alleged lack of religious understanding is supplemented not by a desire to build bridges between faiths, but to heighten tension at every opportunity. Dewsbury is home to the highest BNP vote in the country, a sign perhaps that not everyone within the town is comfortable with the idea of sharing their neighbourhoods with, or eager to learn about, other races, religions and cultures.

Tom Coates