How Birmingham Became a Haven for Bhangra and Balti

“The engine room of the U.K.” became an unlikely hub for South Asian immigrants, who now make up 27% of the city’s population.

Bollywood Dreams Dance Co. at Diwali festival in Birmingham (Reena Tailor)

Charmaine Noronha


February 13, 2023

A sea of people are bouncing their shoulders, dancing to the sounds of bhangra booming from a stage in Birmingham’s central Victoria Square in the U.K. Two city dance groups, Bollywood Dreams Dance Co. and India Island Academy, have the crowd of 15,000 smiling, enjoying the beats. The aromas of vada pav and biryani waft from stalls in the square as the audience waits for the headliner, Punjabi rapper Garry Sandhu.

If you’re a Brummie, or a Birmingham resident, it is no surprise that the city hosts one of the largest Diwali celebrations in Britain. Birmingham, the second most populous city in the U.K., is home to one of the largest South Asian communities in the diaspora, with over 309,000 people. In 2021, 27% of the city was South Asian, with white Brits making up 43%. The largest ethnic community is Pakistanis, at 17%, followed by Indians at 6% and Bangladeshis at 4%. 

South Asians arrived in Britain in droves after the subcontinent gained independence. But how did they end up in a small Midlands city, once known as the “engine room” of the U.K., instead of the larger London, and create a community of their own?