Soho Road

Soho Road in Birmingham is a place where convent, mosque, Rasta HQ, Jesus Army centre and Buddhist temple sit side by side. John Harris visits the most religiously diverse road in Britain

Hack your way through central Birmingham’s oppressive tangle of flyovers and roundabouts, and you’re there. A two-mile thoroughfare where cultures, religions and institutions collide, seemingly at random. Convents and churches sit alongside mosques, and Buddhist temples created in shabby Victorian houses. A vast Sikh gurdwara faces an equally huge jobcentre. Close by, there is a Rastafarian headquarters, a house owned by the Jesus Army, and the offices of the Asian Rationalist Society.

This is Soho Road, which begins on the fringes of the Lozells neighbourhood and heads into Handsworth: both areas long associated with cheap property, and a refuge for people who have come from abroad. Starbucks, Wetherspoons and Peacocks are nowhere to be seen. Alongside shops selling garish religious paraphernalia for Muslims and Hindus are convenience stores opened to serve arrivals from eastern Europe and beyond. The only faces that are uniformly white belong to the mannequins in the sari shops. If you want an instant picture of the local population, a good place to start is a fast-food place called Big Johns – where the menu covers just about every strain of fast food, and a microcosm of the whole world queues for lunch. There is a plaque bolted to the wall, dedicated to the proprietors’ mother: “May Allah bless her soul and give us the strength to live her dreams and wishes.”

Photographer Liz Hingley spent 18 months visiting Soho Road, capturing the people who live here – people who have their roots in around 170 countries. Those figureheads who claim to speak for them seem to specialise in a strange, sometimes strangulated mixture of ordinary English and that awkward officialspeak in which everything comes back to “the community” and religion has long since been recast as “faith”. Many endorse a vision recently laid out in a pan-religious free newspaper called Faith In Lozells: “Polish mechanics service Pakistani-owned taxis and Vietnamese do t’ai chi in a garden close to the St Francis Centre, an organisation with its roots in Irish Catholicism.” In this view of things, gods of various kinds watch over the hubbub, and all is largely well.

see Liz Hingley’s work here

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