From Regent Park to Blavatnik

June 2, 2024

A journey through time, tradition and transformation

From Regent Park to Blavatnik


ngland holds a special attraction for South Asian people. From freshly baked English cookies to signature fish and chips, from university education to strolling through the streets of central London, and from English pubs to museums, the experience captivates travel writers and tourists.

As part of the English colonial legacy, everyone wants to learn English to raise their status in society and drinking tea is an integral part of the lifestyle.

It took me twenty years to revisit England, and although I have travelled extensively during the last two decades, I could never shake off the spell of the place where I had lived for over a year.

From Regent Park to Blavatnik

I rediscovered myself in an area that was a confluence of different social and cultural thought processes: Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, on one side and the industrial centre of Birmingham, the Cadbury city, on the other.

As a student, I learned the meaning of a pluralistic society in England. I saw people of different cultures and countries coexisting as complementary social groups. The state acted as a benevolent apparatus, encouraging inclusive participation in the development process.

This participatory approach created opportunities for people worldwide to settle and establish themselves in England. The current prime minister and the mayor of London are both from immigrant families.

My recent visit helped me observe the changes that have taken place over the years. I had arranged lodging in St John’s Wood, one of the areas in central London a short distance from the fictionalised Regent’s Park. The first discernible change was the omnipresence of East Asian and South Asian people in the heart of London.

“Are we in Ilford or Southall?” my wife asked at one point.

After a short stroll and grocery shopping, we returned to our apartment. The next day, I had a jogging session at Regent’s Park, where the demographic change was obvious.

From Regent Park to Blavatnik

Over the next few days in London, we met old friends at lunches or dinners. The London Tube system took us across the city for an affordable fare. In my assessment, London’s transport system is better than the Japanese train network.

People who migrated to England in the 1960s or 1970s are watching their third generation raised, educated and working in England. The early migrants were not highly educated. They earned their living through sheer hard work while adhering to the local normative structure.

They bought properties across the country and facilitated the migration process for their extended families. Their only concerns were making money and ensuring the education of their children.

Their children are well-educated. In my understanding, they are more religious than their illiterate or semi-literate parents. Many of them not only sport beards but are also proponents of counter-culture, challenging traditional English norms.

I asked one of my friends about the religious orientation of their children, and his reply was revealing. They were all ‘normal’ until they joined universities. At university, student societies created in the names of religions influenced them.

It took me twenty years to revisit England, and although I have travelled extensively during the last two decades, I could never shake off the spell of the place where I had lived for over a year.

This time, I witnessed a number of helpers and servants working in people’s homes. They are from different parts of the world, mainly Eastern Europe and South Asia. They do most of the chores at subsidised labour rates ranging from 5 GBP to 8 GBP per hour, less than the minimum wage threshold. This social change is rapid. It is changing the identity of British society, which had traditionally favoured self-reliance.

My next sojourn was at the Blavatnik School of Public Policy in Oxfordshire. To say the least, it provided a different lens for looking at life. We studied and socialised both on and off campus. Role-playing, simulation narrations and dinners sent everyone back to their school days.

Liberal ideas and progressive discussions gave us various perspectives. The faculty members were acclaimed names in their respective fields yet always amenable to new ideas. Not once did they impose their views.

From Regent Park to Blavatnik

The change in the student population was evident at the university. During one of the briefing sessions, we were informed that students from China now outnumber those from other countries.

Though evolving due to greater internet access, language is still sacrosanct for me. However, high immigrant influx can dilute the usage.

The disappearance of traditional English pubs in London also intrigued me. Many pubs have either become restaurants or have had their floor area reduced. The traditional bell, rung at 10:55 pm to signal the last order, is no longer sounded in London.

However, the practice is still followed in Oxfordshire, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, who shares his grave with his wife near Blenheim Palace. Sir Winston‘s statesmanship saved England during the World War II.

A traditional English pub still operates just outside the chapel where he was laid to rest. Though both its exterior and interior have changed, its soul remains intact. A dress code is observed. Bells are still rung at 10:55 pm.

The Blavatnik School shapes public policy through its alumni network and research. Traditions and conventions define England. The rise of a counter-culture through the migrant population poses a threat to the core of the English value system.

I had a feeling the School must produce intellectuals and statesmen to revive the past glory of Regent’s Park and save England from the onslaught of an unregulated counter-culture.

The writer went to Warwick University, England. He writes on social and economic issues. He lives in Lahore and may be reached at nadeem27ctp

From Regent Park to Blavatnik