Is Leeds losing its religion? Exploring the importance of faith in a modern day city

Hate crime is on the rise in West Yorkshire and the numbers of people identifying with a religion are seemingly on the decrease.

By Emma Ryan
Saturday, 30th November 2019, 6:00 am
Faith in Leeds - the Yorkshire Evening Post starts a week long special report.
Faith in Leeds - the Yorkshire Evening Post starts a week long special report.

Yorkshire Evening Post reporter Emma Ryan takes an in-depth look at faith in Leeds today.

Hate crime is on the rise in West Yorkshire, and has been on the increase since 2015.

New figures revealed to the YEP show that in 2015 there were 3,397 recorded hate crimes - 2,845 of those were categorised as race-related and 155 as faith orientated. Others related to sexual orientation, disability or transgender.

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Candles are used as a symbol of light in many religions.

Last year West Yorkshire Police recorded 8,227 hate crimes - 439 were listed as faith hate.

Breaking those statistics down for Leeds, the force reveals that while religion-related hate crimes rose - they now appear to be declining.

In 2016, there were 103 faith hate crimes in the city, 149 in 2017, 243 for 2018 and 192 for 2019 to date.

Chief Inspector Richard Padwell said a number of factors are behind the figures, such as the way crimes are processed and recorded under a new system, that people are more willing to report incidents and the effect international incidents and politics has locally.

Chief Inspector, Richard Padwell oversees hate crime incidents in Leeds.

He told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “There has been an increase but it has definitely tailed off. The reason why I think there has been that in the last two to three years is there has been better recording with the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) and there has been an impact with the growth of digital offences, mobile phones and every type of social media that you can think of.

“There are also key factors, issues and trends in communities. For example, in the Jewish Community, when there is a big issue internationally it has an impact, with Islamic related terrorism there might be incidents against Muslims in this country.”

Mr Padwell says that while physical assaults are quite rare, the types of crimes are usually abuse of someone in the street, graffiti and the making of statements and sending messages on Facebook or Twitter that are threatening or malicious.


The celebration of EID in Leeds.

He welcomed the increase in recorded incidents as a sign victims are more willing to engage with the police, but he says, the force has to turn its attention to outcomes.

From September 2018 to October 2019 ten per cent of cases of hate crimes reported to police in West Yorkshire had a ‘positive’ outcome such as a charge, court appearance, community order. 21.6 per cent saw a suspect identified but lack of evidence to progress the case. In 18 per cent of cases the victim refused to assist and 40 per cent couldn’t place a suspect.

Chief Insp Padwell added: “That is definitely the next step - to improve the positive outcome rate. More people do have confidence about giving statements and going to court - which can be difficult, particularly if it is somebody where they live”.

Religious Affiliation

Meanwhile, almost half of the city’s population say they identify as Christian, more than 210,000 people claim not to have a religious belief and more than 50,000 didn’t answer the question according to the 2011 census.

Islam is the next biggest faith practiced in Leeds with 40,772 people identifying with it.

However, that puts the other main religions - Hindu, Sikh and Jewish at a minority but with Christian based places of worship having closed over the years and temples on the rise - where does that place faith in Leeds?

Dr Mel Prideaux is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Leeds.

She explains: “People identify with a tradition without engaging with it and we have the growth of diversity. Complexity and variety has increased.

“We have a new Hindu temple on Kirkstall Road, the Wat Buddharam, we have the growth of black pentecostal churches, we have the traditional model of Christianity but you have Roman Catholic churches with Polish congregations and Latter Day Saints.

“On the one hand we have diversity and the embedded engagement with religion and on the other hand we have got the apparent decline in religion in terms of the recorded data.”

University studies

Students new to religious studies at the University of Leeds are taken on a bus tour to the city’s significant places of worship and she says the religious groups are keen to engage with students and “the idea that they are not accessible is something that needs to be broken down”.

The lack of focus given to religious education on the mainstream school curriculum is a factor contributing to religious tension - as is social media.

She said: “Schools were doing what they were required - to teach some RE for half an hour by whoever had space on their time table. Media is the way they (young people) learn about all religions other than Christianity. Awful things are being circulated which has nothing to do with religion - it is basically racism dressed up as religion.”

However, she went on to say that religious practices are being carried out in communities, every day, by all walks of life whether they deem themselves to be religious or not.

She added: “There is a lot of social activity that is not institutionalised - St George’s Crypt, the All Hallows food bank. They see it as a social mission and there has been a big rise in that.

“With religious organisations you will come across people doing all sorts of things in communities, motivated by religious beliefs.

“Heritage is really important, people’s ancestors may have followed a particular path, and they don’t believe that, but it binds them. People want to get married in church, Remembrance Day services, you have a vicar doing funerals.

“You can’t pretend it is not part of the fabric of Leeds life - it is very much part of that. Coats of arms on buildings, art and there is a graveyard in the middle of the campus. Once you start noticing it, you keep noticing it.

“Religion may be changing and evolving, the types of religion that people are active in may be evolving but it is not going away. There may have been plenty of points in history where people have thought it is - but it has not.”

In a special series over the next week the Yorkshire Evening Post will shine the spotlight on the different faith groups and organisations across Leeds who make our city so diverse. If you would like to feature please email [email protected]