Glodwick Road — in the heart of Oldham — is where, not so long ago, a pub with the unusual name of Live And Let Live could be found.
The message of hope and tolerance was printed in big, bold letters at the entrance. You couldn’t miss it.
The building, at No 141, is still there. But it has been converted into a children’s nursery serving the now predominantly Asian neighbourhood. On display, in the front window, is a photograph of the local mosque, next to the rather sweet caption: ‘My mummy comes here.’ Some of the area’s best-known shops — such as Bhatti Fabrics and Hussain & Sons Cash & Carry — are also pictured.
The transformation of the premises, from Boddingtons-run tavern, to Muslim bridalwear store, to nursery — with places for 200 youngsters, around 80 per cent from Muslim families — reflects the seismic cultural and demographic changes which have taken place, not just in Oldham, a former mill town on the outskirts of Manchester, but in other towns.
One side of Oldham: The Glodwick district is ranked among the most deprived areas in the country with more than one in five adults claiming out-of-work benefits last year. It has the highest concentration of Muslims in the town
Another side of Oldham: Less than a mile down the road from the Glodwick district is neighbouring — and sought after — Saddleworth West and Lees (97 per cent white)
Behind the demise of the popular pub, though, is another story; one that sits uncomfortably with the vision of multicultural Britain sold to us by New Labour and perpetuated by a chorus of liberal voices. That vision, encapsulated in the establishments’s name — Live And Let Live — died on the night of Saturday, May 26, 2001, when the pub was firebombed and drinkers attacked.
A petty argument, about football, between Asian and white teenagers earlier in the evening, had escalated into a full-scale riot with barricades of furniture and burning tyres erected in the streets.
Mobs from both sides of the racial divide fought running battles with each other and the police culminating, just after 11pm, in the storming of the pub. The violence continued throughout the week and spread to other Northern towns.
The Home Office-commissioned report into the trouble found that there were long-term causes which obviously went much, much deeper than a spat between schoolboys.
‘Many communities,’ the inquiry concluded, were ‘living parallel lives’ and often ‘these lives did not seem to touch at any point, let alone overlap or promote meaningful interchanges’, which, in turn, had fuelled ‘fear and suspicion that is easily exploited by extremists’.
The findings were an embarrassment for Tony Blair, during whose time in office net annual immigration quadrupled reaching an average of 247,000 a year.
The Live And Let Live pub — unfortunate marketing in the post-riot era — closed shortly afterwards and the deep-seated racial tensions that resulted in three nights of mayhem gradually faded from the headlines.
Until this week.
The St Mary’s ward, a tangle of mainly Victorian terraces, a mile or so south-west of Oldham town centre, where the majority of residents (around 66 per cent) are Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Compared to less than a mile down the road, the neighbouring and sought after Saddleworth West and Lees (97 per cent white)
Few could have predicted that when Nigel Farage, taking a break from campaigning with his new Brexit Party, rose to give a speech on the other side of the Atlantic at Lock Haven University in rural Pennsylvania, the spotlight would once again return to Oldham.
‘Let me take you to a town called Oldham in the North of England,’ he began in his own inimitable way, ‘where literally on one side of the street everybody is white and on the other side of the street everybody is black. The twain never actually meet, there is no assimilation. These, folks, are divided societies in which resentments build and grow.’
Farage knows Oldham because, as Ukip leader, he fought a by-election here but failed to unseat Labour.
Not surprisingly, his comments were met with condemnation in some quarters. Oldham MP Jim McMahon accused him of trying to ‘stoke up tensions and create division’ with his ‘us and them’ rhetoric.
Had Farage been speaking in Britain, instead of playing to an American audience in an area full of Trump supporters, he might well have chosen his words more carefully. He thrives on controversy, but he is no fool. The fact of the matter is there are relatively few ‘black’ faces in Oldham. Only 2,797 — 1.2 per cent of the 219,000 population — were classed as ‘black ’in the 2011 census.
Oldham has grown (by around 10,000) since then, but the number of black people is still statistically insignificant compared to the more than 40,000-strong Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.
But take away the simplistic language and the inflammatory tone, and the truth is that, nearly 20 years after the Live And Let Live pub was targeted, many in Oldham are still ‘living parallel lives’.
Initiatives to break down barriers were introduced in the aftermath of the riots.
Glodwick’s all-Asian Greenhill Primary School was ‘twinned’ with the virtually all-white Rushcroft, two of nearly 60 primaries involved in such arrangements, where youngsters attended joint sessions on racism.
Farage (pictured last week) knows Oldham because, as Ukip leader, he fought a by-election here but failed to unseat Labour
Millions were spent on regeneration projects. Yet, an ethnicity report by Oldham Council, based on census data and updated as recently as January, found that ‘geographical segregation, particularly between white and Pakistani and white and Bangladeshi, is exceptionally high and showing little sign of improvement’.
Because parents generally choose to send their children to the nearest school, ‘geographical segregation’ has resulted, inevitably, in ‘educational segregation’ with classes remaining overwhelmingly monoculture; in other words, either almost exclusively white or exclusively non-white, depending on your post code.
Now, as then, Oldham, remains racially divided. Anyone who has spent time in Savile Town in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, or Bradford or Luton or the Leeds suburb of Beeston will surely be quietly nodding their heads in agreement.
Such divisions are born, for the most part, not from hatred or prejudice but the desire for individuals of similar cultural background to live and socialise with one another. Nevertheless, the Oldham riots — and too many other examples to mention — are a reminder, if we really need reminding in these uncertain times, of the dangers of communities becoming isolated.
Nowhere is this development — what Trevor Phillips, the former chairman of the Commission For Racial Equality, once called ‘sleepwalking to segregation’ — more evident than in St Mary’s ward, a tangle of mainly Victorian terraces, a mile or so south-west of Oldham town centre, where the majority of residents (around 66 per cent) are