However, I already have nagging doubts about the direction this might be taking.
It's the flogging of the word 'diversity' that concerns me. We've made diversity our official civic religion in Leicester but I think we should place more emphasis to the ways in which we mix to give us the best chance of winning City of Culture.
Let's be clear, my wife is of a different race, religion and nationality to me and we have two lovely mixed-race daughters. My life is richer and more interesting as a result. I also think it's absolutely essential to continue the battle for equality so that that the diverse people in this city can all feel equally represented and respected. But diversity alone is just a statistic and having diversity doesn't necessarily mean harmony or cultural significance. It's what we do with it that counts.
Leicester has done something with it, demonstrated by the extent of blending, mixing and intermarriage between different groups of people. This is something to celebrate because A) it is somewhat unique to Leicester and B) is a living testament to the efforts in race relations and community cohesion that this city is rightly famous for.
I took my five year old (mixed Anglo-Singaporean-Indian) daughter to Chinese New Year party at one of her schoolmate's houses the other day. There were around 10 children there and all but one of them were mixed race. This is backed up by recent census data and it's high likely that mixed race people will become the majority in places like Leicester in the next 50-100 years.
Even our existing 'monocultural' festivals such as the Caribbean Carnival, Diwali celebrations and St Georges Festival are becoming increasingly mixed events, both culturally and racially. This is one of those exciting times when new culture emerges.
To me, mixing is one of the most culturally significant things about Leicester but it rarely gets much attention because it tends to happen quietly and without fanfare in our homes, workplaces, schools, etc. Also, those who participate in mixing are not one single cultural or political group whose voices get heard clearly.
Regarding the City of Culture bid, it's absolutely right that Leicester should bid for this and I think we have a great chance of winning. But I also think we need to do more than just celebrating our individual immigrant groups - something which was born out of a desire to welcome newcomers (noble though that is) - and put more emphasis on new home-grown, hybrid and shared culture.
Already, the first item posted on the Leicester bid's Facebook page was the question "Who is your favourite international artist? Who would you invite to Leicester when we become City of Culture in 2017?" To me, this question implies that authenticity and value can only be acquired from outside and suggests an underlying lack of confidence or awareness of the richness of our home-grown talent. Any bidding city with enough money can import performers from across the World but then there's a big risk that the whole exercise will degenerate into an unoriginal 'World Music' kludge rather than something that truly represents us.
Instead, I believe we should be uncovering and celebrating the culturally unique things that our city has produced (through cultural mixing or otherwise) - the food, music, art, science, sport, business, language, humour. etc. If diversity is to be a selling point then we should be looking at how other mixed cities like New York or Rio de Janeiro celebrate their collective uniqueness not just their ethnic statistics.
Let's celebrate the fruits of diversity, not just the facts of it.
Here are just a few suggested examples of the sorts of mixing that Leicester has produced or nurtured:-
- Interfaith sport (such as the Imams vs Clerics cricket match in 2006)
- Gok Wan (Anglo-Chinese heritage)
- White Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims
- Laurel Aitken ("Godfather of Ska")
- Welcoming a new mosque
- Curry pubs (e.g. Paddy's Marten Inn or the Rifle Butts)
- Engelbert Humperdinck (Anglo-Indian heritage)
- The Empire (formerly St Mark's church - award-winning restoration by a Leicester Muslim businessman)
- Bali Rai (author, inspired by Sue Townsend and Roald Dahl)
- Ajmer Singh Mataru (first British policeman to wear a turban)
- Jadoo (movie release imminent)
- Ju-Lees Asian Veg stall at Leicester Market (English market traders who can speak Hindi and Gujarati to their customers)
- Riaz Khan (former Baby Squad casual)
- Please suggest more...!