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Is Brexit Bringing People Together?

20/01/2017 13:51 GMT | Updated 20/01/2017 13:51 GMT
Robert Benson via Getty Images

Boston, Lincolnshire.

The 'most divided town in England'. The highest Brexit vote. And the so-called 'murder capital'. On the surface, not exactly the crown jewel of the Visit Britain brochure.

This small, unassuming town has witnessed dramatic population changes. In 2001, the biggest foreign community in Boston comprised 249 Germans, and 98.5% of the town's inhabitants identified as 'white British'. Today, figures suggest that as many as 1 in 6 residents were born outside the UK - largely from the 'new' EU countries such as Poland, Lithuania and Romania.

In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, Peter Hitchins wrote that there was 'seething resentment about mass migration' in the town. Tabloids gorge on conflict - but is it true? And can the people of Boston ever come together?

I took to the streets with a small film crew to find out.

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Boston, overwhelmingly, feels neglected. Forgotten. Residents tell me that the central square was once a bustling market and focal point for the community. Now, it boasts a mere handful of stalls that 'all sell the same sort of thing'.

On the day of our visit, there is a small fairground. No one plays the neon games.

Ask 'Is Boston a happy place?' and the response is mixed. 'Quite often I can't think of anything good to say about the place', says Dave, leader of the local Scout division. 'You're asking the wrong person' jokes a waitress.

The town has 'lost its identity' says one young man, who recently moved to Boston from Leicester, as he tucks into a meaty English breakfast in a local café. 'It's on the map for all the wrong reasons'.

And concerns over immigration? 'It's mainly the older generation. We were brought up to live and let be - we grew up around different cultures.'

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'Half of Boston is English, and the other half is the rest of the world', says Patricja, who runs the local Polish Community Centre. She's lived in Boston for 8 years and insists it's 'not as bad as the press makes it sound'.

In fact, she thinks Brexit was a turning point: 'Communities are coming together now more than ever'.

She shows us a Facebook group, Boston More in Common, which, according to a recent post, was 'started by like-minded people to foster a sense of open friendliness between the rich tapestry of nationalities and cultures we are lucky to be home to in Boston, Lincolnshire.'

So not quite so divided as the press would have us believe? Is media coverage, in fact, fuelling the division?

Patricja thinks so. People pay more attention to the newspapers than their own experience ('90% foreign crimes', according to one taxi driver). And Patricja says journalists aren't interested in the 'positive stories'.

Dave agrees. 'I voted to leave, but not because of "all those foreigners"', he tells us. 'We owe a lot to the immigrants - I don't even like calling them immigrants. They don't cause us 1/10th of [the problems] people believe.'

As I wander through Boston's narrow, darkening streets I can't help but reflect on the difference between what's real and what's reported. The world isn't binary; reality not as black and white as the newspaper headlines.

Press coverage suggested that hate crimes soared after the Brexit vote. But was there a quieter, subtler, more positive - and consequently, unreported - reaction? Was Brexit, in fact, a turning point for Britain's torn communities?

When people are divided, sometimes they need a catalyst to bring them together. Perhaps, for Boston, Brexit was just that.

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