Birmingham is a city which has been built on the tolerance and toil of refugees for hundreds of years – which is why we should welcome Syrians now.
Over the next few days an array of historic buildings including stately homes, churches and civic centres will be opened up for free as the city marks the first ever Birmingham Heritage Week .
And at the same time the city and the country as a whole are considering their response to the Syrian refugee crisis – the Birmingham Post is endorsing a bid for “City of Sanctuary” status and supporting efforts to resettle some refugees here.
But anyone who delves into Birmingham’s rich history this week will find this is the very essence of being Brummie.
As historian Carl Chinn said: “These people come here to work,” and in doing so add to the economic and cultural growth of the city.
A little over 250 years ago Birmingham was a tiny town centred around St Martin’s Church with clear green space between the villages which would one day become its suburbs – Aston, Yardley, Kings Norton and so on.
At this time the large county towns which surrounded Birmingham like Worcester, Warwick, Stafford and Shrewsbury were closed cities – their trade guilds stopping newcomers making a living – and growth therefore discouraged.
Non-conformists, such as Baptists, Methodists and Quakers, were also denied freedom to worship and trade.
These outcasts were given a warm welcome in Birmingham and were free to set up workshops and businesses as well as churches which thrived.
Among them the Quaker Cadbury family, who as well as founding their world famous chocolate factory, created Bournville village.
Free trade cities like Birmingham grew, drawing more and more people from the countryside, surrounding cities and increasingly further afield and internationally as British Imperial influence spread.
While the stuffy old county towns stalled and stagnated, the Industrial Revolution saw Birmingham and its Black Country neighbours become the dominant force in the region as its streets swelled with newcomers, from the country and further afield.
As the campaign group Citizens UK points out, the UK has held a long and important tradition of offering sanctuary to those who need protection. 100,000 Huguenots, 10,000 Jewish Kindertransport children, spared from the Nazi concentration camps, 160,000 Poles following the Second World War some of whom had served in the Battle of Britain, the Vietnamese Boat People, the 28,000 Asian Ugandans fleeing Idi Amin and the people who fled the war in Kosovo.
Birmingham has welcomed its fair share of these, as well as waves of economic migrants from Ireland, the Caribbean, South Asia and Eastern Europe.
If Birmingham welcomes five hundred desperate Syrians, as has been suggested, it will not bring the city’s infrastructure to its knees – it would mean less than one child for every two schools.
No doubt there were some in Birmingham saying, as the population surpassed ten thousand and later one hundred thousand all those years ago, that the city was full. They would be aghast at the modern city of 1.1 million people drawn from 187 nations generally (a noisy minority aside) getting along.
Where are they now: Roy Hattersley
The residents of Sparkbrook may occasionally wonder what their former MP Roy Hattersley is up to these days and could be surprised at the answer.
Following the Birmingham Heritage Week jolly down to the House of Commons, a member of the delegation, Conservative councillor Peter Douglas Osborn, popped to the historic Reform Club to meet an old friend for a drink.
It was while there he bumped into former Labour deputy leader Lord Hattersley, who has recently resigned from the House of Lords after 18 years.
Coun Douglas Osborne said: “He was still the rebel of old, dismissing “fuddy duddy” ideas of the establishment even though he could do that within the finest club in the country – the House of Lords.”
Of course at the time, according to our correspondent, Lord Hattersley was having his portrait painted by the club’s artist in residence.
“Very soon we will have something to match the grand picture of Joe Chamberlain in the Council House,” joked Coun Douglas Osborn.
Minister offers little comfort to city council
Local Government secretary Greg Clark, in a letter to the city council’s independent improvement panel, has given little away about his intentions for Birmingham.
He says he will consider the panel’s next report ‘very carefully’ before deciding what needs to be done about Birmingham should it fail to deliver on the recommendations of last December’s Kerslake report .
It provides little comfort for council leader Sir Albert Bore who has himself briefed the panel, who he meets in public this week, that rapid progress is now being made on the delivery and all is well.