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'How our little community came together at the most divisive time.'

In October 2016, I started Boston More in Common, a Facebook group set up after the Brexit vote, with the goal of recognising and embracing the diversity of my small, British hometown, Boston. In Lincolnshire county near the east coast of England, Boston had the highest proportion of leave voters in last June’s referendum to leave the European Union (EU).

I was one of those leave voters myself. I felt abandoned and ignored by government. I did not want to risk another unprecedented influx of migrants from open borders and free movement with no help or funding to cope. We need to build communities and friendships with those already here.

We are a small town, not a city, and we need stability and for migration to be controlled. This would not be possible with more countries joining the EU and constantly arriving to the UK. We were once a town full of tourists in the summer, but now very few come and visit, especially our fellow Bostonians from Boston, America. We need to change this.

The group aims to change people’s ways of thinking and encourage friendships between different ethnicities in my hometown. Britain’s reputation has been tarnished by the media, which has stoked hatred and fear between different community groups and locals, dividing towns like Boston further and lowering the morale of everyone who lives here.

The small town of Boston had the highest leave vote in last year’s Brexit referendum, despite its large community of European migrants. (Image: Supplied)
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One of the town’s core issues is population growth. Boston does not have the infrastructure or services to cope with an increase in population, like the cities do. Our councils lack the expertise and do not seem to get much support on how to deal with the flow of new migrants – uncontrolled migration would mean more houses of multiple occupations and further strain on our public services.

Although we do believe there should be limits on the volume of migration, we also need to do a better job of making newer immigrants feel welcome in Boston, and build a stronger sense of community and belonging. My group aims to steer away from politics so we can focus on integration and cohesion with respect for all the different nationalities living in Boston and for locals, regardless of their political views.

Around the time we were setting up the group, Britain learnt of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox – who was shot and stabbed on the street, by a man with links to neo-Nazi groups. Many believe Cox’s pro-immigration stance was a motive for the killer, Thomas Mair. Jo Cox left an important message for us: that we must focus on the fact that we have more in common than what divides us.

Listen: Mamamia Out Loud discuss: Don't you hate it when you have to shave your legs for, you know, one of the most important meetings post-Brexit? (Post continues after audio...)

She was the inspiration for the name of our group, which is about coming together and sharing what we have in common - something Boston so desperately needs. Boston More in Common gained momentum following the broadcast of a British radio program, BBC Radio 4 ‘Two Rooms’ which debated issues in the lead up to the election, or referendum. On this particular segment, a small group of Brexit voters from Boston were in one room, and in the other room was a group from Lambeth, southwest London, which had the highest proportion of remain voters. They represented the complete opposite perspective on Brexit than Boston.

Each group discussed reasons behind what had influenced their vote. Julie Perrot (a lifelong friend and Boston More in Common committee member) and I were amongst the group speaking on behalf of Boston. After the broadcast, we met the Lambeth group and exchanged viewpoints. It was a warm and friendly environment, both parties respecting each other’s choices and views. The dialogue inspired me to come up with the idea of pulling communities together in Boston.

Julians' group is trying to bridge the divide between the town’s British-born citizens and its migrant communities. (Image: Supplied)
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We aim to encourage and inspire integration by providing ‘free’ regular events for different nationalities to come together, mix and mingle, and make friends. These events will help the social wellbeing of all individuals and lift the morale of the town, which I hope will bring back tourists and visitors. We aim to have our own ‘Celebration of Diversity Day’ as well as share the celebrations of important dates of other ethnicities in our community.

We hope to encourage and inspire a strong community spirit with a sense of pride for the town, encouraging cohesion across all ethnicities and paving the way for respect and understanding other cultures, and celebrating diversity. Hopefully Boston born locals views will change attitudes, dissolve fears and resentment that many locals still feel as a threat to their way of life, or of being taken over.

Our group has a strong constitution of committed volunteer members from a range of backgrounds, who want to make a difference in the town and help bring people together. We want to see our town as a united community where people are friendly and care about the welfare of each other regardless of where they come from. There needs to be a platform for people to come together and to help make this happen. We are that platform. A platform for voices to be heard, and solutions, suggestions and views to be shared.

"We need to do a better job of making newer immigrants feel welcome in Boston, and build a stronger sense of community and belonging." (Image: Supplied)

However, our group is held back by a lack of funds. We are applying for funding grants from various places and are still trying to navigate our way through the minefield of applying. We believe the whole community will benefit from this group. We are a small town with a melting pot of different cultures on a scale not seen or experienced anywhere else in the UK according to the UK’s 2011 Census.

Boston More in Common is growing and expanding so rapidly and has already attracted interest from people far and wide. I find myself dedicating more of my time to this group, rather than running my own business, as I believe in the strength and unity of my hometown, Boston. This is growing much bigger than we could have imagined and we hope is helps change Boston for the better.

Julian Thompson is the founder of Boston More In Common. Read more about Julian’s story on Dateline’s ‘The Most Divided Town in Britain’ on Tuesday 23 May, 2017, 9.30pm on SBS. The episode will be available after broadcast on SBS On Demand.

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