By 2011, one in ten York residents will be from a black or ethnic minority group. But is the city ready to cope with this change? MAXINE GORDON, CHARLOTTE PERCIVAL and STEPHEN LEWIS report.

ONE in ten York residents will be from a black or ethnic minority group by 2011 - and York is not ready for them.

That is the conclusion of civic leaders who admit the city has been caught napping as its multi-ethnic population has boomed.

York is one of only three UK cities where the black population has more than doubled in the past decade.

And the new multi-ethnic community is a young one, in contrast to York's ageing population, placing particular strains on maternity and education services in the city.

Every school in York now has a child from the black or ethnic population, and more than 40 different languages are now spoken in city classrooms.

At one school near York Hospital, one in three of the 34 children in the reception class does not speak English as their first language.

At a meeting of the City Of York Council's Yor OK Board yesterday, members heard that York's burgeoning multi-ethnic population raised challenges across several areas, including housing and adult social services.

Maternity provision is also under the spotlight as York Hospital revealed how it was discussing ways to ensure women who did not speak English as a first language could have a midwife from the same background.

York's growing diversity has caught city leaders on the hop, admitted board members.

Board chair Coun Viv Kind said: "With the ethnic community in York tending to be dispersed, we were not fully aware where they were living or how they got together. I think it's something York has come to quite late compared to other cities."

Fellow board member Coun Carol Runciman said: "York is becoming a diverse city, more and more so, and we have to grasp the issues that that brings to us."

Colin Stroud, chief executive of York CVS, said the influx of Eastern Europeans in particular had placed a huge demand on agencies.

He said: "We need to look at this and we need to look at it quickly."

He pointed out that Selby already produced a welcome pack' for new arrivals from overseas, adding: "We need to be thinking of that sort of initiative too."

No to candidate quotas

POLITICAL leaders in York have ruled out a quota system to ensure ethnic minority representation on York council following the May elections.

Liberal Democrat leader and council boss Steve Galloway said Lib Dem candidates had now been found for 46 of the 47 council seats and, as far as he knew, not one of them was from an ethnic minority.

His party would welcome candidates of any race or background, he said. "But people have got to want to be politically active.

"Sometimes when people are settling in a new country, the priorities for them is to get to understand the language and the culture. Politics tends to be a fairly low priority."

His party did not believe in quota systems, he added. "We have an open, democratic way of selecting candidates. Everyone is free to put themselves forward. Candidates from ethnic minorities get exactly the same treatment as anyone else."

Labour leader Dave Merrett said it was important that as far as possible, the make-up of the local council was representative of the population of the city. Labour had made informal approaches to minority ethnic groups, but it could be difficult to persuade people from different backgrounds to come forward, he said.

Ethnic minority populations were not the only group under-represented politically on the council, he added - so were women, working people and parents with young families.

Green leader Andy D'Agorne said his party did not operate a quota system to increase minority representation. But he added: "We are keen to get more women candidates and more people from minority backgrounds."

The equality boss...

YORK'S growing ethnic minority population represents both an opportunity and a challenge, said Jules Horsler, City of York Council's Equality Officer.

The opportunity lies in the skills, qualifications and work ethic that many of the migrants coming to live in York and North Yorkshire bring with them.

The challenge is ensuring they have the chance to make use of those skills by finding appropriate work.

Many people from ethnic minority backgrounds are moving to York from other big British cities - often in West Yorkshire - in search of work, Mr Horsler said. That made it easier for them to integrate, because they already had some familiarity with Britain.

But York also had the chance to learn from the mistakes of other cities, he added.

It was important to avoid concentrations of minority groups in certain areas of the city, something which had tended to happen in other cities, because migrants were often poor and so ended up in poorer areas.

Such ghettos could be very divisive.

The first problems faced by many immigrants to the UK were often accommodation, and help registering for employment, said Mike Beckett of York Citizens' Advice Bureau.

"We've had people who have been let off lorries with a piece of paper in their hand saying take me to the CAB'," he said. Often they had been dumped in York with no money, no connections and little idea of where they could go for help.

St Lawrence's CE Primary School

FOURTEEN different languages are spoken at St Lawrence's CE Primary School, in Heslington Road.

Between them, children can speak English, German, Portuguese, Mandarin Luo (from Kenya), Kenyan, Mandarin, Farsi (from Iran), Polish, Malay, Turkish, Korean, Shona (from Zimbabwe), Russian and Arabic.

Often, young children start school unable to speak any English, says acting head teacher Helen Dumville. Yet they soon progress to the same level as the average child.

"They get one-to-one help with language but it is minimal and the children learn the majority of everyday English from other children, through play and interacting. It's absolutely incredible to watch.

"It's a joy to have them in school. They bring another dimension."

Although this is essentially a Church of England school, four other world religions are taught. Children are encouraged to respect and understand each other's beliefs.

Parents come into school to talk, or to cook food. That is always popular, says Helen.

Children can be very quiet when they first start, because they do not have the confidence to try spoken English.

They often communicate through games, smiles and gestures. Each child is assigned a classroom buddy and will be shown around the school and helped with the classroom routine.

When they are settled, the learning begins. They share experiences with each other too.

"You often get children saying hello in Swahili and some of them have taught others a few characters in Mandarin," said Mrs Dumville.

The school's efforts have been so successful that it recently won an International School Award from the Department of Education and Skills (DfES). It also has links with schools in Poland, France, Germany, Holland and Norway.

"We're still on a learning curve but the children do a lot of the work for us," said Mrs Dumville.

Case studies

TEBA Diatta's father, Georges, hails from Senegal in French West Africa - and though she was born and brought up in York, 25-year-old Teba has always felt different.

She had many white friends as a child, but also suffered racist abuse.

"There were lots of jibes about banana boats and so on at school, and they would get on to me because of my dad's accent," she said.

She still suffers occasional abuse - she and her brother were walking through Acomb recently when a small boy started making chimp noises. "I thought it was racist," she said. "My brother thought they might just have been clowning around."

For years, as a schoolgirl in York, she had only white friends, and used to describe herself as a "white girl in a black skin".

"I really resented being different," she said. "I was always trying to be more white." It was only when she went away to university that she made black friends.

Now back in York, she welcomes the fact that the city's ethnic population is growing. She recently met a black, French-speaking girl working in a York shop, and struck up a friendship. "It is great having other people."

Prominent people such as York's black Archbishop Dr John Sentamu are also sending a strong message that those from different ethnic backgrounds can be successful and make a real contribution.

Racism won't go away overnight, Teba said - Celebrity Big Brother shows just how deep some attitudes go, with a storm of complaints this week about the treatment of Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty.

But hopefully British society as a whole, and York in particular, will become more tolerant as minority populations grow, she said.

POLISH shop owner Bogdan Bednarczyk had a fairly smooth start to his new life in England.

His spoken English was good enough to communicate when he arrived in October 2002 and he found a job fairly easily.

What was most difficult, he remembers, was finding somewhere to live.

"Landlords want to see references from previous landlords but you can't get that because it's your first time in England," he said. "They want to see your records, but what do you do to get them? I didn't know because I'd never done it. It's very hard."

Most people manage with basic English skills, says Bodgan, which improves with time as they integrate.

Living in England is expensive compared to Poland, so surviving until the first pay day can prove difficult.

Employment regulations were a breath of fresh air, however.

Although Bogdan, 25, needed a national insurance number, he found he did not need the masses of paperwork required in Poland. He was amazed at the speed he could find work.

"In Poland, they ask for this, they ask for that, they want to see medical records. In England the way the job market works makes it quite easy."

Bogdan, who lives in Selby, now owns Polish shops in Selby and York. He settled fairly easily, but thinks more could be done to help other migrants.

"The council should put people in touch with others who have been through the process," he said. "They (the council) should make it so they are trying to find people rather than people trying to find the council. That would help."