This street demonstrates the benefits of cosmopolitan mixing across a wide variety of cultures and aspirations. There is a strong emphasis on enterprise and commercial growth informed by hard work and ambition. It was very clear why Belgrave Road has become famous as a well-connected multi-cultural street. Our visit was inspirational. This street acts as an urban condenser to focus the positive energy of a well-established community. This is a great example of how a tight community can self-manage all aspects of a street in an effective way. Some of these management issues however, should be pursued more formally with strategies and time-scales attached. This would ensure that Belgrave Road has planned a great future to match the glorious 50 years to date.
1. Leadership and Governance
Keith Vaz has been the Leicester East Member of Parliament for 32 years. One of his two local offices is in the middle of Belgrave Road with a prominent shop front. His commitment to the road and the community was obvious when we met him. The local leadership is excellent and we saw many examples of how the local community leaders are guiding the street and the neighbourhood. We heard less about how the local authority is supporting this leadership. The team felt policies about pavements, lighting and listed buildings would reinforce the positive features. We met two local police officers who impressed us by their dedication to community policing.
2. Local Character
The first immigrants from the Asian sub-continent began around 1960 and in 1972 a wave of Ugandan Asians arrived. This character reinforces all the good things about street and touches on aspects of the social and commercial interaction. We visited a couple of days prior to the weekend celebration of Diwali and the decorations were spectacular. The Diwali celebrations here are the largest outside India. The council tried to close down the library a few years ago but a coordinated local campaign prevented this; it is full every day as a social hub.
The amenity provision at Belgrave Road was extensive and clearly well-used. The community radio station is in a converted church, broadcasting over a 70 mile radius. The neighbourhood centre caters for the widest of demographic groups and activities. We dropped in on schoolchildren making Diwali festival decorations, alongside adult learning in the main hall with a popular lunch club for pensioners. The swimming pool, library and sports centre are at one end of a tree-lined public park adjacent to the community health centre next to the neighbourhood centre. The pedestrian spaces are narrow, but made tolerable by the civility between locals and politeness extended to visitors.The range of parking facilities are reported to be adequate.There is scope for improving pedestrian provision by widening pavements and also by creating more appropriate public space such as around the Ghandi statue at the south end. There are opportunities for an effective strategy, combining modest top-down investment with community initiative.
The massive street parties that take place during the various festival times held throughout the year demonstrate the potential of Belgrave Road to be a great public space itself with Diwali being the biggest event. Most probably it is unrealistic to permanently restrict all traffic but perhaps the introduction of a car free Sunday once a month could be tested.
4. Commercial success and vitality
The busy street is the vibrant backbone of a neighbourhood. It has its historical, social and economic roots in commercial enterprise. Every retail unit is occupied, driven by a flexible rent structure and an ambitious approach to business growth. The work ethic of the business community is very evident, aided by the high level of family/owner- occupied property. The retail mix is dominated by fashion, jewellery and food which serves to balance the footfall to the street from day to night. There is a wide range of banks, both British and Asian contrary to the current high street trend.There is a local business organisation but there seems to be no appetite for a formal business improvement district. The street is a magnet for the local area, with a national profile at key points in the year, which is proudly used to its commercial advantage.
5. Environmental sustainability
This street supports economically sustainable business which provide local employment. The Neighbourhood Centre provides a great range of social service for local residents. However, we saw little evidence of environmental sustainability being applied in a coordinated and systematic manner. There are many opportunities here, for example, to coordinate deliveries and refuse collections across retail sections on the road.This street proves the ‘power of community’ in organising great events and effective networks.That same power could make significant improvements in the street sustainability using current business networks to create sustainability networks.
6. Community, health and wellbeing
The community here is exceptional.At every place we saw how businesses and residents work together to create a cultural hub.The neighbourhood centre, the library, sports centre, and radio station all demonstrate this. Each of these places references the other with adverts, flyers and joint events. The assessors have concerns about wellbeing especially as the air quality on this busy main road must be below recommended limits.There is a proposal to plant trees in the centre of the road to create a boulevard and plant cherry trees on the roundabout which is a step in the right direction. We recognise that the road is an essential artery but think the council should have a long term strategy to deal with this. We were told that the population here has higher incidence of diabetes due to their traditional diets and with such a concentration of this issue on a street there could be a better street focus on educational campaign.
The council classes this area as “Town Centre” and the connectivity is excellent with regular buses. Five years ago the road flyover by the roundabout was removed. This has made a massive improvement to the sense of arrival for the City. We understand that two life-sized model elephants will soon occupy the roundabout which sounds fantastic. There is a listed 1930s petrol station near the roundabout and the owner has allowed it to deteriorate into an eyesore.We believe the council could enforce repairs or a sale to allow this positive feature to contribute again. The connectivity means that the shop and restaurants have a fame well beyond the immediate area. The saree shops specialise in wedding outfits and shoppers come from a massive catchment area.