Hounslow Is The Heartbeat Of Heathrow, The World's Busiest Airport
By SHAMLAL PURI in London
HOUNSLOW lies on the fringes one of the world's busiest airports – Heathrow. The Asian community has made Hounslow its home. In fact, the heart of Heathrow beats with the Indian workforce dotted all around Hounslow.
Hounslow is a bustling suburb of greater London. From a sleepy village some centuries ago, Hounslow is today a bustling town and a melting pot of cultures. Here you will find people from all parts of the world living in harmony.
An influx of people to the two towns of Hounslow and Southall in the county of Middlesex only gives a rich picture of a multi cultural society with people from Africa, Europe, US, Australia and the Asian continent.
The high street in Hounslow which was known for its characterless shops a century ago today attracts top names from the retailing industry.
While Hounslow is getting a reputation for its variety of shops and stores, restaurants and fast food chains are also springing up faster than one can count. The variety of multi-cuisine eateries spoils one for choice. One would find anything to tickle one's taste buds from Thai, Indian, Chinese, Italian and Mexican food making the place a home away from home. It would be difficult to dine out without a reservation as the popular restaurants are always packed to capacity with long queues waiting outside to be seated.
But behind the plethora of these establishments lies the growing lack of service at some of these places.
Good service has become a thing of the past with some shopkeepers, trading with the ‘don't care for the customer attitude'. Lot of businesses are owned by foreigners settled here recently. They operate strictly on a ‘no refunds policy' unless the goods are defective. Goods can be changed or sometimes a credit note is issued to be cashed within a certain time frame. The shopping experience is not the same as in the major chain stores, where customer satisfaction is a priority and the return policy is 28 days of a guaranteed refund.
There is no shortage of people visiting these establishments.
But behind all this hulla-ballo lies one pressing worry in the minds of many people who have lived here for many years. The sudden influx of new immigrants is a cause for concern to them.
‘They took our jobs', is the thought many have in Britain as their jobs are taken over by a multitude of immigrants flooding the country on a lower salary.
The plethora of people in Britain is also placing a mammoth challenge not only for the National Health Service but also on the Government to provide housing, Social Security and in combating anti-social behavior.
Some immigrants, especially the uneducated ones from the Indian subcontinent and Europe, deliberately adopt a policy of not working. They instead survive on Government handouts for years. People with big families qualify for a substantial income support and live in substantial council-owned properties.
Official figures show that around 950,000 people draw unemployment benefit. The Government paid around a whopping £13.3million in benefits to dead people! It would take around 25 years if the illegal immigrants in Britain were sent back home costing the Government around £250million a year according to a recent programme on Television's Channel 5.
‘Immigrant pregnancies stretch the National Health Service (NHS). More than 500,000 eastern Europeans have migrated to the UK following the accession of eight new member states to the EU in 2004. The impact on services appears to be far greater outside major cities', according to a recent BBC report.
‘While large numbers of migrants are work permit holders from US or India, a sizeable influx are from the EU who do not need a work permit or a visa. Until recently asylum-seekers and refugees represented one of the largest immigrant categories, including Sri Lankan Tamils, Serbians and Somalis in the late 1990s and Zimbabweans, Iraqis and Afghanis in the early 2000,' according to another report by Prof. Steven Vertovec, a social anthropologist and Director of the Economic and Social Research Council's Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford.
Expatriates are raking in the money. The husbands work within their field while their wives take jobs in supermarkets and chain stores or even as free-lance cleaners.
The same scenario is repeated in Leicester, a city around 100 miles from London, where many Asian communities are well settled since the 60s and 70s.. Here too new migrants are seen, many of them are exploited as they work for next to nothing. Again the locals would be deprived of jobs as no one would employ them as they would need to be paid the minimum legal wage.
Migration Watch Chairman Sir Andrew Green, in his report of September 2005, said, ‘This influx must stop'. He talked of the massive increase in immigration and its consequences. ‘The flow of immigrants has trebled under the present government. An extra one million immigrants have arrived since they came to power. And immigration will add five million to our population in the next 30 years. This amounts to 84% of our population growth and is equivalent of five times the population of Birmingham. This is not "scaremongering". It is the government's own population projection. The real question is whether we need another five million people on this island, adding to a population which is already at record levels. Yet we will need an extra one million houses in the next 20 years just for immigrants. Where are we going to put them?'
There was a major cut down on local staff a while ago to cut costs of running businesses. Out sourcing work to India by banks and many businesses is considered cost effective. Where a query can easily be attended locally the telephone call is diverted to a call centre in India. But one is diverted back to a local office in UK if the call centre staff are not in tune with the query, so how does the cut backs in local staff and out sourcing work to call centers helping Britain?
Banks, Building Societies, and Stores now-a-days are all seen to take on foreign work force.
Shops in Hounslow mostly employ foreign nationals. There is an influx of shops selling low-priced goods – as low as one pound (US$1.50) for an item. The store is appropariately named The Pound Store. Then the 99 pence store came followed by Asians opening these types of stores daringly competing with these two major stores. Just next to 99 pence store came a 98 pence store. Further down the street there sprung a 90 pence store, with a slogan ‘every penny counts'. Followed by an 89 pence store. Surprisingly they all survive. Many of these stores are owned by the Sikh and Muslim communities. Now Hounslow high street in comparison with the 18th Century is surrounded by Asian businessmen selling merchandise from household goods, clothing, shoes, jewellery, mobile phones and accessories.
Primark store became a big hit throughout England, Spain and Ireland. With a slogan "Look Good Pay Less" and trading under the name of Penneys in Spain and Ireland has taken the high street businesses by storm. Founded by Arthur Ryan, it has a chain of 138 stores in the United Kingdom. Their goods are a favourite among the local community and tourists who find the merchandise value for money. I saw big crowds mainly of Eastern Europeans and Somalis settled in the town, at the Hounslow branch of Primark.
The store's distribution centers – a 650,000 sq. ft. unit at Magna Park in Leicestershire, and a 200,000 sq. ft unit at Naas, Primark Stores Ltd. is a subsidiary of Associated British Foods (ABF). ABF is a diversified international food, ingredients and retail group with global sales of £6 bn, and 75,000 employees in 46 countries. Their buying team travel internationally to source the latest fashion garments for their targeted young fashion conscious unisex customers of under 35s. The expertise of the purchasing team in sourcing the season's key fashion trends in high-quality and value for money merchandise have won them a Retailer of the year award in December 2006 from the British Council for Shopping Centres. Primark stores have been awarded a string of awards.
The staff selection process focuses on recruiting a mix of applicants, here again the foreign nationals dominate the work force in Hounslow. Another popular store opened is the American chain store, T-K Maxx, famous for selling branded goods at 60 percent cheaper again employs a foreign work force. The opening of Asda supermarket in Central Hounslow has also attracted many foreign nationals in their work force.
In UK, Diwali, Ram Navmi, Janmashtami, Holi, Dashera, Navratri, Vaisakhi and Eid and Christmas, Chinese New year are all celebrated with great passion.
Southall town which had 55 percent Indian and Pakistani community is also now a diversed multi-culture society with many migrants settling here.
There is a street festival organised by the Sikh community in Southall about a week before the religious day known as Vaisakhi (Baisakhi). Vaisakhi, the Sikh New Year, is the holiest day of the calendar for millions of Sikhs worldwide. In London it is celebrated fervently by the Sikh Community. The procession looks a colourful event with large community taking part. The procession starts from Southall through Hounslow, this year in April. The traffic came to halt until the procession had passed. Police and volunteers controlled the traffic.
Vaisakhi is also celebrated at Trafalgar Square, London. It is organized by Vaisakhi London Committee supported by the Mayor of London. It is a free event. The programme start with Shabad Kirtan – religious hymns – performed by groups from London Gurdwaras (Sikh Temples). This is followed by classical music, Dhol drummers, live music, dance, guest artistes and DJs from local Indian radio networks.
The message of Vaisakhi as described by the Sikh community has particular relevance today in multi-cultural and multi-faith Britain. Vaisakhi promotes friendship and mutual respect as the way forward. This is consistent with the command of Guru Gobind Singh Ji: "Consider the whole of humanity as one; we are all children of the One God."
The Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara was opened in Southall at the end of March 2003: this is the largest Gurdwara outside India. Many people visit the Gurdwara in the morning. There are two Christian Churches and three Mosques here.
Glassy Junction, a pub in Southall serves several Indian draught beers and is the first and only pub in UK accepting payment in Indian Rupees. Broadway the main street has the largest shopping centre. There are many big stores converted into bazaars with lots of little shops within selling a variety of items giving one a feel of mini India.
There are a variety of Grocers and Restaurants. The Sweet Marts on the Broadway selling sweets and savouries are very popular but the hot Jalebis (an Indian dessert made of batter, deep-fried in a coil shape and served in sugar syrup) from the Jalebi Junction are sold in their stall on Southall's main street is still a favourite among many. A visit to Hounslow and Southall leaves a sweet taste in the mouth. – Shamlal Puri