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Jenny Williams suggests some questions the arts sector should be asking in response to the 2011 Census findings relating to ethnicity/identity and migration.

Photo of four female performers in Snakes and Ladders
Snakes and Ladders, a play inspired by stories collected from a black hairdressers in Brighton exploring themes of memory, cultural background and heritage

Paul Jackson

In March 2011 everyone in the UK was asked to fill in the Census. The analytical data is now being released, giving information that goes further than the initial headlines. This fresh data offers us an insight into the UK population, identifying changes and trends, and indications of the issues that might affect our thinking for the decade to come. This data can help our industry in our diversity planning and help us adapt and develop our wider audience and participation agendas.

I am sure that we are well aware of the statistics around ethnicity. Overall, the white ethnic group in the UK has decreased in size and the most ethnically diverse area is London. The majority of the population in London now comes from an ethnically diverse background; and alongside the capital there are three other ‘super-diverse’ areas – Leicester, Luton and Slough.

Programming diverse work is often viewed as a risk outside London

For the first time the Office of National Statistics (ONS) introduced a question around identity. While we have no comparative data we are introduced to statistics for example that show that 81% of the population in Luton self-identify as British. As Luton is one of our super-diverse communities, we can only conclude that individuals are self-identifying across a range of classifiers. I think this means that we can no longer use old models of reaching audiences, as diversity has now moved on to the next stage.

This chimes with the results of the previous Census that highlighted that the fastest-growing population in the UK was the mixed-race community. In fact this trend was right, as in the past ten years this group has doubled in size. Alongside this increased mixed-race population, there is a corresponding rise of two million households where there are members from different ethnic groups living together. Again, this could suggest that the UK is entering a new era of cultural complexity, and moreover, this complexity is happening within people’s homes.

What does this explosion in multiple identity mean for us in the cultural sector? I think that the next decade will demand that we change the way we reach and talk with communities − a new kind of cultural engagement that enables us to navigate and talk to people’s different identities. Over the past year it has been hard to ignore the public debate around immigration. The Census provided some choice headline grabbers on the subject: “Record levels of immigration lead to jam-packed England” and “Census result reveals one in eight UK residents was born overseas.”

So what has this got to do with us? Certainly, the past ten years have seen dramatic changes in the population, with the number of people born outside the UK up by 4.6m in a relatively short space of time. There appears to be a new trend, brought about by the economic downturn, for arrivals to follow work rather than communities. This is a direct contrast to patterns in the past, where new communities have tended to reside where there are existing connections and groups. This is very much a story of transience and change that offers us an insight into how we may need to reframe our diversity, outreach and participation strategies. How can we plan programmes for mobile, more transient communities?

If we also look at trends in internal migration – these are the statistics that track the number of people moving around the UK − we can see that London, our super-diverse city, is where the most internal migration occurs. Large sections of Londoners are moving out to the South East and East regions in search of a better quality of life, schools and better housing. Super diversity is on the move, and as this decade moves on, I think we can expect more changes within our regional communities than ever before.

So does this mean that we should start investing more in touring great culturally diverse work outside London? Should we do more to support diverse artists to live and work outside the city? What cultural offer will our audiences want having lived in super-diversity? This applies to both the white and diverse communities moving outside London. Programming diverse work is often viewed as a risk outside London. I wonder whether the risk is now not to? More than anything else, the Census has shown us the profound change that the UK has been and is going through. How can we use this data to help us plan for what resilient organisations will need to look like in the twenty-first century? I think that we will need more cultural navigators, equipped to have a dialogue with communities who fit into more than one group, able to see past the headline and translate the huge social changes that we are in the midst of with sound policy, intervention and great artistic work that challenges, supports and drives our culture forwards.

As we enter this time of complexity, it is imperative that the cultural sector is right at the heart of some of the bold and sometimes difficult conversations around identity, migration and change. We are a sector brimming with cultural commentators, innovators, problem-solvers and hunter-gatherers of stories and perspectives. If we do not step up to this new challenge, not only will we be missing out, we would be failing ourselves and society.

The Census headlines
• 16% of the UK population is 65 or over (an increase of 0.9 million).
• 0.8% are 90 or over (up from 0.7%).
• 6% are under five (increase of 406,000 since 2001, although in the same proportion).
• The population of England and Wales grew by 7.1 % to 56.1 million, twice the rate recorded in the previous decade.
• The most ethnically diverse area was London, where fewer than half (45%, 3.7 million) of the city's 8.2 million residents were white British.
• White ethnic group is down five points to 86%.
• 80% in England and Wales are white British, down seven points.
• 2.2% in England and Wales are mixed race (up from 1.27% in 2001).
• 12% of households had partners or household members of different ethnic groups, three points up from 2001.
• Since 2001 the number of people of mixed ethnicity had almost doubled to just over 1.2 million in 2011.


Jenny Williams is Founder of Take the Space Consultants.


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Photo of Jenny Williams