Tower Hamlets saw the largest percentage growth in population in England between 2011 and 2021, after having the largest percentage growth between 2001 and 2010 too.
The borough’s population growth increased by 22.1% between 2011 and 2021, according to recent Census data published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). During that time, the population of London increased by 7.7%, while the population of England rose by 6.6%.
Tower Hamlets Council claims this growth ‘has largely been driven by international migration’. Indeed, 24.5% of people in the borough arrived from outside of the UK over the last decade, the fifth highest percentage for any UK borough.
Known for having by far the largest Bangladeshi population in the UK – both in terms of ethnicity and country of birth – the borough has almost 5,000 more residents born in Bangladesh now than in 2011.
Proportionately the number of residents born in Bangladesh has however gone down (from 15.3% in 2011 to 14% in 2021) and Italy, not Bangladesh, has become the most popular origin country for international migration to the borough. The local population born in Italy grew from 3,000 in 2011 (1.2% of the local population) to around 10,600 in 2021 (3.4%).
Home to around 112.1 people per football pitch-sized piece of land, compared with 91.8 in 2011, Tower Hamlets has also become the most densely populated local authority area in the country, with Aldgate the most densely populated ward in the borough.
Alongside challenges for the Council, this presents opportunities for trade, as demonstrated by the opening of Al Kahf, a Somali restaurant just off Mile End Road serving the borough’s growing population identifying as Somali or Somalilander (6180 residents, up from 3048 in 2011).
It also presents challenges for those arriving from afar. In June 2022, Eeshita Azad, artistic director of the British Bilingual Poetry Collective, ran eight Translation Circle workshops at Whitechapel Gallery and Toynbee Hall, encouraging non-native English speaking locals to practise their English and enjoy readings of Bengali, Urdu, Sylheti and Igbo poetry.
These workshops show how the borough can harness its intersecting histories of migration to help arrivals integrate into their new communities over the coming decade.
The ONS Census carries out a national survey every ten years to record the most accurate estimate of the living situations of people across England and Wales. The ONS raised a furore in the late 2000s when it swapped its headquarters in upscale Pimlico for humble Newport.
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