• A protester holds a sign during a March for Europe, through the centre of London to protest against Britain's vote to leave the EU. (AAP)
The Brexit vote has driven a wedge between migrants and British-born citizens. In a small town that voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU, one Brexit voter is trying to bring these communities together.
Airdate: 
Tuesday, May 23, 2017 - 21:30
Channel: 
SBS

Almost a year after Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU), the issues and anxieties that led to Brexit continue to create a wedge in communities across the UK.

The east coast town of Boston is one of the most segregated and violent places in Britain. Among residents who voted in the Brexit referendum, 76 per cent favoured leaving the EU, against a national average of 52 per cent.

Many attribute the town’s pro-Brexit stance to concerns about first generation Eastern European immigrants from Poland, Latvia and Lithuania taking jobs, in what was once a 98 per cent British-born town. This divide between new migrants and Boston-born Britons has created an uneasy and hostile mood.

Recognising these tensions, one man is trying to bridge divides and bring his town together.

61-year-old Julian Thompson is a lifetime Bostonian. After noticing growing negative attitudes towards immigrants he started the group ‘Boston More in Common’ late last year, hoping to provide a forum for discussing and resolving issues within the town.

He says many of the townsfolk’s immigrant-related fears are unwarranted.

“The biggest change has been the shops being taken by Europeans,” he told Dateline reporter Evan Williams. “People don't like to see change, but the way I see it is that a lot of these shops were empty before.”

But Julian’s view isn’t held by everyone in the town. In the eyes of many Bostonians, immigrants aren’t contributing to the community, they’re imposing themselves upon it.

Anna Kusztyb has lived in Boston for a decade, after moving from Poland to take a job teaching adults with learning difficulties – one that wasn’t able to be filled locally. She now works with other migrants, helping explain the government services available to them.

Despite being a longtime member of the town, she says her accent and heritage render her an outcast. It has gotten worse since the Brexit vote; recently, a woman began abusing her on the street for her accent.

“Some people may mistreat you only because they can overhear your accent, because for some people it may be like, they are allowed now,” she says.

Anna’s observations are reflected in reality. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, from July to September last year, there were 14,295 reports of hate crimes across the UK. This is 3,500 more reported hate crimes than during same period in 2015.

Hana Rafajová has also been in Boston for more than a decade, after moving from the Czech Republic. She says the result of the Brexit vote fundamentally changed her own view of her own place in the town.

“I've been crying nearly every day, because we do feel insecure, we still don’t know what it means for us,” she tells Dateline.

“We know everybody says, ‘oh, nobody’s going to kick you out’, we know that. But it could bring little changes to our rights, which in the end may force us to leave.”

For Hana, this issue is complicated by the fact that her partner Paul, a police officer in Boston, voted in favour of leaving the European Union.

“I was going to leave him,” she says. “I thought, you know, ‘who am I going out with? Does he realise he goes out with a European person and this vote could affect my stay here, my rights?”

“I hated him."

An increased threat of violence, combined with a feeling of becoming ostracised, has made life difficult even for established migrants like Anna and Hana. They are who Julian is trying to connect with through ‘Boston More In Common’.

However, Julian’s grassroots community organising and desire to bring Boston together carries a strange irony – he and his entire family voted to leave the EU. Not only that, Julian echoes many of the cultural concerns voiced by anti-immigration activists in Britain.

“I think people have lost their identity with the town,” he says. “Over the last 10 years it’s had a steady stream of people we don’t know come in and you begin to lose your identity.”

His daughter Rebecca describes immigration to Boston in a similar way.

“You walk into the supermarket, there's not one English accent,” she says. “You walk in town and you struggle to bump into somebody you know. It feels like your town's been invaded.”

For Julian, the problem is not immigrants coming to the town, but their association with a rise in population – which he believes the town “can’t cope with”. He is confident building closer ties between Boston’s different communities will lead to a more accepting, integrated town, where everyone is committed to helping each other for the collective good.

While Dateline was with Julian, he was in the process of organising a dinner, which he hoped would begin easing tensions between the different communities in Boston.

But will Bostonians like Hana and Anna, uncertain about their place in a town they feel doesn’t want them around, take on Julian’s offer?

Or has Brexit caused a divide in Boston that’s beyond repair?

Watch the full story at the top of the page.

More

A big drop in migration to the UK shows Brexit is working - at least for the anti-immigration right
The latest statistics show Brexit has worked, at least for the anti-immigrant group of 'leave' voters, as migrants leave the country in droves.
What Britain’s post-Brexit immigration policy could look like
Huge questions hang over what Britain’s exit from the European Union will mean for the country’s immigration policy.
How areas with low immigration voted mainly for Brexit
Around a third of Brexit supporters say their main reason for voting 'leave' was immigration and border security.
How one small town is bringing its community together after Brexit
In Boston, which had the highest leave vote in last year’s Brexit referendum, one group is trying to bridge the divide between the town’s British-born citizens and its migrant communities.
How Brexit made me feel like I didn’t belong in Britain
After moving to Britain from the Czech Republic more than 10 years ago, Brexit is making me consider returning home.

Credits

Reporter: Evan Williams

Producer: Joel Tozer

Camera: Benjamin Emery

Associate Producers: Stephanie Stafford, Ana Maria Quinn

Editor: Micah McGown, Simon Phegan

Transcript

JULIAN THOMPSON, BOSTON MORE IN COMMON:  Hi, can I give you a leaflet please? Have you heard about ‘Boston More in Common’ it’s about cohesion, getting people together. It’s a Facebook group that is trying to bring Boston together, for the good of Boston, yeah? What nationality are you? It’s in Lithuanian in there.

The biggest change has been the shops being taken by Europeans. People don't like to see change but the way I see it is that a lot of these shops were empty before these were taken on.
Lovely, thank you. Bye.

Julian Thompson isn't political, he's a family man with a local electrical business. But when his hometown was named "the most divided place in Britain", he got so upset, he decided to do something about it.

JULIAN THOMPSON:  There could be a question over whether we need to integrate because we've all got our own communities, we're all happy in that bubble so to speak, of where we live, but it's best if we can be happy also moving in and out of groups when we need to as well. There shouldn't be any hostilities.

Would you prefer one of grandad's curries? Or do you want a McDonald's? What's wrong with my curry?

Julian is Boston born and bred. Tonight, his extended family is over for some of his famous curry.

JULIAN THOMPSON:  This is Rebecca, my daughter. Son-in-law to be, Darren, who's with Casey, Bailey who works with me and is me grandson as well..

Soon after Brexit, Julian started "Boston More in Common" A group that reaches out to migrants.

JULIAN THOMPSON:   I want to live in a better town. Quite easy, straight to the point, I want to be in a town that I feel comfortable with.

But Julian didn't vote to remain - in fact Julian and his entire family voted for Brexit.

JULIAN THOMPSON:   I think people have lost their identity with the town, because you can imagine a place that was a quiet little market town, and then over the last 10 years it's had a steady stream of people we don't know come in and you begin to lose your identity...

They feel government services were not funded to keep up with Boston's high migrant intake but Julian also feels it is up to the locals to connect with those migrants already here.

NICOLA BOSWELL, JULIAN’S STEP DAUGHTER:  I feel we've just been left to suffer everything that's happened in the town, and no one's really sat up and paid attention to us. And it was just a really, they don't notice us. We want a voice, we want to be heard.

REBECCA LUCAS, JULIAN’S DAUGHTER:  We've got to embrace it, cos else nothing's gonna change. And it might not change in my generation but for my kids, this is where all the nationalities are gonna start blending. You know so I wanna try and make this town a lot nicer than it has been, over the last few years for my kids.

Since Brexit - Julian has been on a mission to bring migrants and locals closer together.

JULIAN THOMPSON:   Right, the adults can eat as well.

REPORTER:   So what do you think about what your dad is doing with this group?

REBECCA LUCAS:  I'm proud of him for what's he's doing because this town isn't gonna change.

REPORTER:  What do you mean?

REBECCA LUCAS:  It's slowly, over, in a quick amount of time become how it is now and you sort of look back and think ‘how did this happen?’ You walk into the supermarket, there's not one English accent. You walk in town and you struggle to bump into somebody you know. It feels like your town's been invaded.

Julian's plans to bridge the divisions aren't grand. He wants to host a dinner for migrants and English. Sounds simple but he's already hitting road blocks. Migrants are responding badly to the way the government has refused to guarantee their rights.

JULIAN THOMPSON:  They're telling me because of the way it is at the moment, because of Article 50, and not knowing whether they're coming or going, they don't feel as though they want to commit. We don't have to do a lot ourselves, but if we can connect people then we're doing some good.

Until Brexit - Boston wasn't really on the map. It's small, about 70,000 people live here. But for someone in the EU who wanted to start a new life in the UK, Boston was a familiar name. The area draws thousands of migrants from Eastern Europe because of its rich farming land. It's a cold, physical job that many Bostonians no longer want to do, because some believe migrant labour has driven down wages.

SHANE: There’s not many English left in the town. There’s not many. 

RICHARD: You can't mix in with them because they don't want to mix, they don't want to mix in with you.

ZUMBA TEACHER:  We started to have concerns and as soon as we kind of mentioned it everybody's oh you're racist. So it was basically put up and shut up.

DON: There is no desire for integration on either side.

After 26 years on the taxi rank in Boston, Sue Ransome has seen it all.

REPORTER:  What are the main problems you see around town on a Saturday night?

SUE RANSOME, TAXI DRIVER:  Um, a lack of tolerance I think is the main thing. They don't tolerate each other...

REPORTER:  Who don't?

SUE RANSOME:  The English and the migrants. There's no sort of real positive cohesion between them. It's...they have a totally different way of behaving and this leads to a lot of problems. They don't respect our way of living.

REPORTER:  And can that usually be migrants fighting each other or is it migrants fighting British?

SUE RANSOME:  The Poles do seem to like, I hate to say this, they do seem to like to get into a fight, you know what I mean? They're not sort of averse to actually smacking somebody as opposed to perhaps stepping back from it.

The growing tension in the town has led to Boston being called one of the most divided towns in Britain.

SUE RANSOME:  Urinating in the street. That's English.

It's a quiet Saturday night - but Sue's experience on the rank shows why Julian is finding it so hard to bring people together. Migrants from Poland and Lithuania make up just over 10 per cent of Boston's population. Poland became part of the EU in 2004, which is when Boston started to change.

ANNA KUSZTYB (Translation): Do you have any questions relating to children?

Anna Kusztyb was recruited from Poland to teach adults with learning difficulties - a job the authorities here could not fill locally.

ANNA KUSZTYB (Translation):  Asia, you didn’t attend the training regarding TB?

ASIA (Translation):   No but I do have some information.

ANNA KUSZTYB (Translation):  And you don’t want a blood test?

She's lived here for a decade, her daughter was born down the road, she considers herself a Bostonian. But Brexit has made her and other migrants no longer feel wanted.

REPORTER:  What are people experiencing in the community to not feel wanted?

ANNA KUSZTYB: It is what described to us by some people that the attitudes out there, they have changed. And people, some people they may mistreat you only because they can overhear your accent because for some people it may be like they are allowed now.

Soon after the Brexit vote, Anna was in a park with her young daughter. She says a local woman started yelling at her after overhearing Anna’s Polish accent.

ANNA KUSZTYB:  This woman you know, you didn't need to understand real language, her body language, her aggression, you know? She was pointing fingers in my face and she was "I will punch you," she was saying to me things like that.

REPORTER:  That's terrible.

When Anna asked for help, no-one intervened.

ANNA KUSZTYB:  So I was in the park, just surrounded around... I was just surrounded by people who didn't want me there, and it was sad that my daughter is British and she was crying. She was four at the time. It was sad. She is English. Maybe later we will go to the race ‘How English you are’. How many persons of English citizens is in your blood, really. Because, she is English and she got this racial abuse. Because of me, because I am not English.

Anna's personal experiences in Boston will make it hard For Julian to gain her trust for his special dinner.

ANNA KUSZTYB (Translation):  Good afternoon. Good afternoon Basia.

At this weekly meeting Anna helps fellow Polish migrants with information.

ANNA KUSZTYB (Translation): They’ll organize an interpreter over the phone.

But talk today quickly moves to the uncertainties Britain's Brexit brings.

WOMAN (Translation):  When we go ahead with Brexit, and if I don’t have permanent residency or citizenship, then they could say “Goodbye. Go back to Poland.”

NEISHKA (Translation):  The leader of the party did his job well. But he thought not of his country, only of himself. I personally think, and it is only my opinion, the majority of English people aren’t very well educated. They are easily influenced and by misleading people he achieved what he wanted. So now problems are starting to appear.

WOMAN (Translation):   So they accuse us of taking their jobs.

MAN (Translation):   No, we don’t take their jobs. Basically everyone wants to work and earn money.

By the end of the meeting, they're still undecided about Julian's dinner but Anna has agreed to see Julian at the pub later this week. In a town with a high migrant intake it's not surprising there's been some cross cultural romance.

REPORTER:  Just tell me, why did you originally come to Boston?

HANA RAFAJOVA: Uh, to improve my English.

Hana is from the Czech Republic which also became part of the EU in 2004.

HANA RAFAJOVA:  I had some friends here and I missed the translating side.

Over the decade she's lived here - she's made many friends...relationships that since the vote have been tested.

HANA RAFAJOVA:   Since that I've been crying nearly every day, because we do feel insecure, we still do not know what it means for us. We know everybody says nobody is going to kick you out, we know that, but it could bring little changes to our rights, which in the end may force us to leave.

Many of Hana's English friends voted for Brexit, and they're not the only ones in her life who wanted out of the EU.

REPORTER:  And what happened with your partner, what did he vote?

HANA RAFAJOVA:   He voted for leave.

REPORTER:  How did you respond to that?

HANA RAFAJOVA:   Awful. I was going to leave him. I thought, you know "who am I going out with? Does he realise he goes out with a European person and this vote could affect my stay here, my rights and all the situation?" So I hated him and I was going to leave him.

She hasn't left him, well, not yet. Hana's boyfriend is Paul. He's a local police officer and they've been dating a year. Turns out, even love wasn't enough to change his vote.

PAUL WILLS:  I voted to leave the EU for two reasons. Primarily the public services weren't keeping pace in my perception with net migration. I also had concerns over non-vetted entry to the UK, and security concerns if you like that we have a, a free border policy with our European neighbours and that could allow those that I would perhaps describe as not desirable members of our population to, to cross the border freely without checks.

REPORTER:  Have you blamed Paul in a way?

HANA RAFAJOVA:   Yes, of course!

REPORTER:  Not going to put you too much on the spot, Paul, it's alright.

HANA RAFAJOVA:   Because he is the only one, you know, the closest one to blame. So of course he heard it many times 'look what you've done'.

PAUL WILLS:  The many and others don't count, but?

REPORTER:  It all came down to you.

PAUL WILLS:  It was my vote.

HANA RAFAJOVA:   The thing is that if this happened in my country and Paul was the foreign person in my country and my vote would influence his stay, I wouldn't go and I wouldn't vote.

PAUL WILLS:  The impact of it, I'll admit, I didn't think through and now with the current situation of people's rights not being immediately protected prior to negotiation etc, I didn't anticipate this would happen.

As Theresa May's snap election looms closer - and with no guarantees to migrants already in the county - migrants like Hana have become a bargaining chip in the negotiations. Julian recognises his vote has created uncertainty for some in the town - he's hoping to calm their fears at the pub today.

JULIAN THOMPSON:   I'll just pull these out of the way, so it doesn't block.

Today he's called the Boston More in Common group together.

MAN:  Come on Hana, sit next to me love, you'll be safe with me.

MAN 2:  Don’t believe him.

Although wary of its true value after Brexit, Anna and Hana have come along.

JULIAN THOMPSON:   Right.  This afternoon all I really wanted to do is welcome everybody and thank you for all coming, great stuff, especially on a Sunday afternoon and giving up all your time for this.

Julian is looking for ideas that can bring English and migrants - or new residents as they prefer to be called - closer together.

JULIAN THOMPSON: We have enough funds to be able to put something up just to make it a bit more interesting.

Hana suggests an idea from her culture.

HANA RAFAJOVA:   We decorate Easter eggs and this is just an example it's one of the (Polish word) if you want to pass it round. This is from 2011, really I don't want to know what's inside now but.

Yet again, talk quickly turns to Britain's Brexit vote - and Boston's part in it.

MAN:  I think everyone has an idea that Boston is, how can you put it, the hate capital of all eastern Europeans. Which is wrong, which is wrong. I voted Brexit; I wanted away from the EU. I don't mind holding my hand up for that. Get out of the EU, they're doing me no good, they're doing my country no good but the eastern Europeans that are all here are more than welcome to stay. This is their country but we just can't have too many more. It's only a little country, we'll sink.

ANNA KUSZTYB: This is why they don't integrate because they are scared, they are uncertain and they had enough if you know what I mean. Evan before this meeting we had somebody loud next door room. “I will tell you about Brexit.”  And some of us, we get it on a daily basis. And there is only so much we can take.

HANA RAFAJOVA:   It's going to be a hard time to encourage any foreign people to actually join us because of the insecurity we've been going through since Brexit. It's hard to motivate anybody to do anything extra right now.

ANNA KUSZTYB:  May I ask you a question, do you mind me asking you a question? May I ask you a question, maybe it's not nice but, do you think when you were voting to leave do you think your choice was informed or not particularly, what do you think now?

MAN:  My personal opinion was, I wanted away from the EU, that's all I was interested in.

WOMAN:  I mean it's been hard for us as well, do you know what I mean? Over the years when you've got people telling us as part the common market what we should do and how we should grow straight cucumbers and straight bananas and straight carrots and nothing can be actually distorted, you know it's not natural.

MAN:  A carrot isn’t allowed to go down in the ground, hit a stone and grow a little bit bent.

ANNA KUSZTYB:  I just don't know because for me it is like, it is surprising because what you are just telling me I cannot picture it in my head with the high results in Boston because it seems to be like, people the voted against people not against straight cucumbers.

Despite this human cost - Julian has no regrets voting for Brexit.

JULIAN THOMPSON:  No, not at all, I don't regret it. No, I've got principles there as I have said before. The bureaucracy I wanted to see that go foremost was on my agenda was to see us being autonomous and being able to run our own country rather than being run by Brussels.

REPORTER:  Just one final thing then, is there a dilemma, people would maybe see a conflict between a Brexit voter and a group designed to try and help integrate new settlers or people from abroad?

JULIAN THOMPSON: Would I be here today trying to bring groups together if it was against our friends here that have come over? No I wouldn't. Why would I want to invest my time in this if that was the case and it's not, I wanted to bring Boston together. That's what I really want to do and I do enjoy the diversity. I do enjoy meeting different people of all nationalities. I've met a lot of good friends through this and no doubt it will carry on.
Well, we'll call it a close now and I thank you all for coming, thank you very much, brilliant.

Discovering that the whole group, including Julian, voted for Brexit hasn't overjoyed Anna and Hana.

ANNA KUSZTYB:  I was cross with them before when they admitted that they voted to leave, I really was cross.  Um and is positive, you know I appreciate the, you know I just don't think there's any point in not to sit and do nothing and complain, unless people they want to do something.

REPORTER:  Is it enough of a problem not to be involved the fact that they voted for Brexit?

HANA RAFAJOVA:   Well, I will always be involved because I just can’t help it, but yeah, it is not motivating us to do anything. As I said it doesn't motivate me to even paint the house because I don't know whether I will be here in a years' time.

Brexit has made many migrant residents like Anna and Hana feel like strangers in a town they once felt welcome in. Just off West Street, Anna's managed to bring people from her meeting to Julian's big dinner.

JULIAN THOMPSON:  Hi Anna, hello, I know this man anyway because he's been my taxi driver many a time, can you remember?

Julian seems surprised to see so many of Anna's friends here.

JULIAN THOMPSON:  I don't know this lady, I have not met her before. I know Anna, but.

Hana is here, with Paul, after Brexit he asked her to be his wife. Hana said yes.

JULIAN THOMPSON: Can I just have your attention please, I won't keep you too long. But all I'd like to say is welcome everybody here, it's great for all of us to be together. And I must say it pleases me that we're for a change in a minority.

The biggest hope is that Boston will become more of a one, people together, and that we can pass people in the street and that they will feel OK with most of the people in Boston. That people here from another land feel wanted or needed and by and large most of them are.

In many ways, his group is a snapshot of how one small town is dealing with a seismic change that it helped create. The rest of Britain has its own difficult journey to make with the repercussions of this vote to be felt for decades to come.

ANNA KUSZTYB:  This should be normal, you know. We shouldn't have to make effort. We are people everything is about people and if we would respect everybody, as we would like to be treated, it will be no groups.
Thank you, boss. Boss?

JULIAN THOMPSON: Oh, OK, can I have a cuddle?

 

reporter
evan williams

story producer
joel tozer

camera
benjamin emery

associate producers
stephanie stafford
ana maria quinn

story editor
micah mcgown
simon phegan

translations
dorota banasiak

original music
vicki hansen

23rd May 2017