Luton’s main strength is Lutonians themselves. In 1952, Luton’s population stood at just over 100,000, yet the origins of Luton’s residents were already surprisingly varied. Barely half were Luton-born, with substantial percentages from London, the greater South East, as well as Scotland, Wales, the North and the Midlands. In the 1950s Eastern European refugees arrived, many as a result of the uprisings in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, as well as substantial numbers from Ireland. Many Irish were involved in the construction of Luton’s growing housing estates and the national motorway infrastructure. By 1971, six percent of Luton’s population was Irish-born. Since then the arrival of new Lutonians from Commonwealth nations has provided the biggest impact on Luton, enriching our culture and society.
The question of ethnicity was not included in the 1951 census, although Luton was still a cosmopolitan place, with only 53% of Lutonians having been born in Luton or Bedfordshire, with the remainder originating from elsewhere in the UK.2 Immigration to the UK has enriched Luton’s culture and broadened its character. Today, approximately 35 per cent of Luton’s population is of a BME background and in recent years Luton’s diversity has been underscored with the arrival not only of new residents from the most recent EU accession states, particularly Poland, but also with foreign students coming to study at the University of Bedfordshire.
Luton has a long and proud history of welcoming arrivals to the town from overseas and, with more than 100 languages being spoken in the town, it is one of the most vibrant multicultural environments in the country. Luton has a large Irish community, as well as people from all over Europe, Pakistan, Kashmir, Bangladesh, India, Africa, the West Indies, Vietnam and Bosnia.
This diversity is being celebrated in the campaign ‘Luton in Harmony’, in which residents are expressing pride in their town by wearing a badge and signing a pledge card. The local authority is also funding the oral history project ‘Luton our Story’, highlighting the various contributions made to local life by our varied communities. Luton’s culture, entertainment, shopping and nightlife benefit greatly from this rich variety of communities, with a wide range of markets and restaurants, some of the most culturally diverse outside London.
The Luton International Carnival - the largest one-day carnival in Britain - is a testament to the town’s community spirit. Each year it regularly attracts over 80,000 visitors, who come to join the celebration of our multi-cultural heritage. Other events include the Luton Mela, an award-winning festival highlighting the best in Asian performance and visual arts, plus St Patrick’s Day and St George’s Day activities, demonstrating a commitment to creating a strong and cohesive community in Luton.
To cement Luton’s reputation as this country’s home of carnival, the UK Centre for Carnival Arts was created by the Luton Carnival Arts Development Trust with £6.8 million of regional and national funding, creating the UK's first dedicated centre committed to training individuals and organisations in the disciplines of carnival arts.