Working to rebrand ‘Suffolk’s most diverse street’
- Credit: Archant
Phanuel Mutumburi at the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality is well-placed to describe the experience of black. Asian, and minority ethnic people who want to set up businesses in the county. Ross Bentley met him to find out more about his work and an exciting project to revamp Norwich Road in Ipswich.
The recent Windrush at 70 celebrations were a timely reminder of the contribution made to this country by people coming from overseas.
Some of those early Caribbean immigrants who travelled at the same time as HMS Windrush, which landed at Tilbury Docks on June 22 1948, eventually settled in Ipswich.
In succeeding years they have been followed by other waves of incomers, who have arrived in Suffolk looking for opportunities and to contribute to the wonderfully diverse society we now have in the East in 2018.
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For an overview of the immigrant experience in Suffolk, there is no-one better to talk to than Phanuel Mutumburi, business and operations director at the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE).
Mr Mutumburi tells me people from the Indian subcontinent, including a large Bangledeshi contingent, were also among the first settlers from abroad in Ipswich, followed by another influx of Indians from Uganda in the early 1970s who came to the UK after being expelled by Idi Amin.
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He said: “Many of these people were entrepreneurial and had operated businesses in Uganda and there are businesses that exist in Ipswich today that stem from that time.”
Because of the inequalities during this period and the problems new arrivals had finding work, many had no option but to start their own businesses. In a lot of cases, these were food-related, sourcing foodstuffs and ingredients that the new arrivals missed from their homeland. “People who were creative saw an opportunity to start restaurants and create places where people could come and eat food and have an authentic experience that reminded them of home,” added Mutumburi, who hails from Zimbabwe where he held a business development role with cabling manufacturer BICC CAFCA before following his wife to the UK.
By his own admission he found it hard to penetrate the job market at the level his qualifications and experience warranted. It’s something he has seen many new arrivals from abroad struggle with - their lack of knowledge of the local market holding them back.
He said: “I’ve seen people with excellent skills very frustrated by these experiences who have had to take menial jobs.”
Now at ISCRE, Mutumburi is working to make a difference - helping small businesses from the black, Asian and ethnic minorities (BAME) sectors navigate the system - whether that be to help with planning submissions or access to grants or loans.
He said: “BAME businesses play a vital role in our community – they provide a diversity that we all need and also provide livelihoods for people, so they can support themselves rather than become a drain on the system and relying on social support.”
Destination Norwich Road
Part of Mr Mutumburi’s time is also taken up with an ambitious project to revitalise Norwich Road, an area he calls “the most diverse street in the whole of Suffolk”.
Located to the west of central Ipswich, the district, says Mutumburi, is regarded with negativity from some quarters.
“We hear statements that Norwich Road is dangerous and that it is a ghetto - there is a disconnect but it is misplaced.
“Its’ all about perception - people go on holiday to Portugal and Turkey but when they go into a restaurant in their home town where people are talking Portuguese they feel threatened.”
Mutumburi sits on a committee along with councillors and local business people who are working to change these perceptions and rebrand the area - an initiative they have called Destination Norwich Road.
Part of the aim is to create a physical transformation of the area by sprucing up shop fronts and installing plinths and artwork, and putting in place flower planters and baskets. The group recently held a consultation day where they shared some of their early ideas with residents and business owners.
The second ambition is to make the area more open to the rest of the town - by dispelling the fears of the wider community and also by encouraging the businesses in and around Norwich Road to open themselves up to people from outside.
Open for business
“Regeneration has been done elsewhere, so there is no reason why we can’t do it here,” continued Mutumburi.
“Look at Ipswich Waterfront – people wouldn’t recognise it from ten years ago. Ipswich is on the rise in terms of regeneration and although Norwich Road is not really mentioned in the Ipswich Vision, there’s no reason why that vibrancy cannot the extended into this area.
“We see some big shops closing but you rarely see boarded up shops in Norwich Road – they may be closed for a while for a bit of turnaround but there is always full occupancy. The place is always busy, there’s a buzz going on.
“We want people from the mainstream to try and understand the cultures that are here - there are perhaps 15 to 20 cultures just along one street. They can buy their meat from one place, their vegetables from another, buy vintage clothes or visit the Coes department store. Then they have a choice of restaurants to go to.”
A new website listing retailers and upcoming events on the street is expected to be live soon while changes to the street’s appearance are expected to take a few months, making the project a longer term ambition.
Those behind the plans believe that if the project is successful in Norwich Road then it may be spread out to other, similar areas of Suffolk.
such as parts of Lowestoft and Felixstowe.