From the Ship

Diversity and Multiculturalism in London

Jun 28, 2023

London is the most diverse city in Europe and competes with New York as the most diverse city in the world.  When Peace Boat called at Tilbury during the 114th Global Voyage, participants took part in a programme to learn about multiculturalism in London. Participants were guided by Jamie Zucker who grew up in East London, and who has joined a number of Peace Boat voyages as a volunteer. This was Jamie’s third time guiding participants through the multiculturalism of London. 

London’s history of migration dates back over 2000 years when it was first founded by the Romans, Jamie told participants. Its position on the banks of the River Thames opened it up to the rest of the world; it made it easy to trade and for people to arrive from around the globe.  London has a population of around 9 million of which 37% were  born outside the UK and only 37% identify as “White British”, with 21% “Asian” (generally Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi), 15% “Black”, 17% “White Other”, 5% “Mixed”. 

Although there are now people from all around the world living in London, the programme focused on a specific neighbourhood of East London where Jamie’s family is from and where he still lives and which has had three main waves of immigration,  During the 17th century Huguenot refugees were protestants fleeing persecution in Catholic France. The second wave of migrants were Jews escaping persecution, imprisonment or death during 18th and 19th centuries in Russia and other areas of Eastern Europe. From the mid to late 20th century, the main immigration was from South Asia, mainly Bangladesh as many people came to work in the area’s textile industry. Jamie's family is part of the Jewish community.

Participants learned about immigrants to Hackney in the suitcase workshop

The first visit was to Hackney Museum. A community history museum in the borough of Hackney, Hackney Musuem cares for over 8,500 ​objects, artworks, images and oral history recordings.  The collections represent the everyday lives of people in the borough, many of whom have migrated from different parts of the world. The museum uses these collections to encourage under-represented voices to share their own experiences and memories and to create a trusted space to engage and empower local communities to tell their stories, share their concerns about local issues that are rooted in a historical context, and understand how their experiences fit alongside others.

Participants were welcomed to the museum by Anna Newbury, Heritage Learning Manager at the Museum. She explained to participants the role the museum plays in the local community and led the participants in a “suitcase workshop” which showed how the local area has changed through the stories and suitcases of people who have travelled to Hackney from around the world throughout history. Looking at the objects in the suitcases including photographs, toys, clothes, passports, diaries and letters, participants imagined who might have owned the suitcase, where in the world they moved from, and what Hackney was like when they moved here. It was an opportunity to learn about the many contributions that people of all nationalities, races and religions gave to the area to make it the place it is today.

"Curry" is a now very much a part of British cuisine


After leaving Hackney, participants had lunch at a restaurant serving Punjabi cuisine. With the large number of people of a Bangladeshi, Indian or Pakistani background, East London is known for its Asian cuisine.  “Curry” is now very much part of British cuisine and has been voted Britain’s most popular food in many different surveys. After a delicious Punjabi lunch, participants walked to the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre.

East London Mosque

East London Mosque opened in its current premises in 1995 but it was first founded over 100 years ago in 1910. The muslim community in East London and the city as a whole is growing. Islam is the second largest religion in the UK and about 16% of population in London is Muslim including the city's Mayor. East London Mosque is the largest mosque in the UK and the call to prayer is a familiar sound on the streets. It has a large prayer room, a women's centre, a marriage match-maker service, funeral service, a gym and a school.

Participants learn about the work of the Mosque and London Muslim Centre

Participants were welcomed and showed around the mosque by Jahad, Projects Officer at the Mosque and Centre. He explained about the role of the Mosque in the community and some of the projects they carry out including working to provide support and education for social workers in Tower Hamlets and also health professionals. Islam is often focus of discussions about multiculturalism in the UK and there has been a rise in Islamophobia. The mosque and Center also work on interfaith forums including with local churches and synagogues to promote cultural understanding and tolerance within the community.

With the area nowadays predominantly associated with the Bangladeshi community, many of its street signs are inscribed with both English and Bengali translations.Over 300 languages are spoken in London.  After English, the top three foreign languages spoken are Bengali, Polish and Turkish. The programme concluded with a walk through the streets including down famous Brick Lane. Participants saw the street art the area is famous for and finished the day at Spitalfields Market. 


Street Art in East London