Scholar Spotlight - Ariq Islam

Laidlaw Scholar Ariq Islam on changing local communities, happiness, and how to live and let live.
Scholar Spotlight - Ariq Islam

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Ariq Islam, a University of Leeds Laidlaw Scholar, on changing local communities, happiness, and how to live and let live.

Research title: An investigation of the relationship between gentrification and the spirit of communities in London: an insight into the shift of lower-income residents’ lifestyles.

My research focuses on the link between gentrification and how it affects communities. The “spirit” refers to how close-knit communities are and what services they are offered by the local councils and each other. I am focusing on Shoreditch, Hoxton, Haggerston, Aldgate and Whitechapel. These are areas where pre-gentrification residents tended to be low-income and hubs for people of colour, whether immigrants or their descendants. 

I would say the real-world impact would be understanding how the new ‘gentrifying’ community and the original ethnic community can melt together. There seems to be a clash, with many of the latter being priced out of their areas and losing jobs etc., due to the influx and takeover by the new residents. My research aims to see what drives these issues and what we – as normal civilians – and the councils can do to combat these issues.

Where did your passion for this research originate?

I come from a Bangladeshi background, I’m the son of two immigrants and did not grow up wealthy. Places such as Whitechapel and Shoreditch used to be Bangladeshi enclaves, where streets like Brick Lane have the Bengali translation pinned on the walls. I watched a lot of these places change growing up and become something different: an artsy hotspot for the younger generations. And I loved the new galleries and all, but I also missed the families in the area, the cheap food spots, and the fact that everyone there had this bond with each other. I suppose it was my sadness that these bonds were breaking which really ignited the spark. 

My passion really grew when I realised that all the house prices had shot up in those areas and that ‘affordable housing’ was not in fact affordable. And in a vain manner, I thought about myself and how I would probably never be able to afford my own flat there anymore. A lot of the people moving there came from wealthy backgrounds, I did not. I always wanted to do something, to rally behind the people trying to lay down beneficial laws. I would hate to say jealousy was the catalyst, but I was jealous on behalf of everybody who could not afford this new London – not just me alone. This was our home, and I wanted to find a way to protect it.

Fish Island - A neighbourhood in London where one
can simply sit and wonder.

What is the most memorable moment from your Laidlaw experience? 

Of course I loved Berlin, but I’d really have to say it was the trip my cohort took to Selside in the Yorkshire Dales! 

It was such a foreign experience for me, a city boy in the countryside. We lived in an odd shack; climbed hills and rocks to get a single bar of service; played children’s games; and slept in bunk beds in what felt like a glorified detox summer camp. 

I did activities I never thought I would: hiking hills, climbing cliff faces, and caving. And whilst I was very afraid of the latter activity, I felt so alive when I was in that cave! I loved it! It was a moment of realisation that the unknown can be fun if you change your mindset and open up to the opportunity. The next thing on my bucket list is skiing!

I cannot reiterate enough how special the Selside memory is to me. It really helped me grow: becoming more confident and learning to mould myself to fit into my team’s abilities perfectly – finding that achievable middle ground for all. But mostly, it’s the friends I made on that trip that really makes it stick out to me!

Selside Residential - Some of the brilliant people I have had
the pleasure of meeting as a Laidlaw Scholar.
Selside Residential - Finding out I loved caving.

What is the biggest challenge you came across, and what did you learn from it?

I suppose the big challenge I faced was in Berlin, not just because it was a completely different country and I was all alone. But because I began my research with a slight distaste in my mouth for the gentrifying community. And whilst there, I realised that in Berlin, I was part of it and so were the friends I was making. There, I recognised that I could be part of two communities simultaneously. I’ve written more about it in my blog post:

I suppose it was one of those transformative experiences, which as a leader really makes you realise that you must accept change, whether it be in yourself, your team, or your project. 

What I truly learnt was that having an open mind is the greatest quality one can have. I admit it’s great to have strong opinions – I’m not usually one to sit on the fence and can sometimes come across as quite the cynic – yet inviting change is so special. It really helped with my project to realise that neither community I’m focusing on is a villain even if it seems that way.

Schöneberg - The view outside the hotel I was staying at.

What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?

Being a Laidlaw Scholar is really just about having a passion. I’d say that is it! Everyone I’ve met on the scholarship has been obsessed with what they’re researching. It’s an admirable quality to have. All these projects can change the world; someone could read a report, start researching it further, and then start supporting the cause the project was on. 

The Laidlaw Scholars are simply faces of the future: we are all people who care about the world and each other. 

I think passion and care, really make every scholar. And I cannot help but be proud of everything my cohort at Leeds has achieved so far.

Which leaders inspire you and why?

When people talk about ‘leaders’, we refer to political heads. However, whilst I like to stay up-to-date politically, I cannot think of one who I can say ‘inspires’ me. 

If I can, I’d like to say that what inspires me is my city, London, and the people that make it. Those people are leaders in their own right. They make London what it is – they are the pioneers of change (good and bad). It’s so much easier to forgive the flaws of a collective group of people because together, we have so many wonderful qualities. 

London is so full of culture, melting together to reveal a city so open to becoming something different. We lead each other; we take each other to new heights. The creatives showcase art; the political-minded protest; and those in the middle go to work, make a difference there, to then go home and admire the skyline.

Every job causes a difference; workers change the events of someone’s day – someone’s life. The Scholarship teaches everyone can be a leader, and when I look at my city, I know it is true: because everybody is a leader, in their own lives and in someone else’s.

Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.

A future I’m trying to create? I’ll have to sprinkle some of my personal dreams into my answer. 

I would love to be able to stand on the balcony of a nice flat I own and look at the buildings around me and revel in the knowledge that whilst not everything is perfect, the community I live in is safe with each other. I want to know that we can make a change and that we can all amalgamate together into the melting pot we once were. Creatives, professionals, the wealthy, the low-income residents, and everybody else: I want the future to be a place where we all respect each other and can lean on one another. To have the communities who have died, be brought back to life, to dance with the new.

Something personal to share

I’m the co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online culture magazine called Culture Interlude, so please check that out:

Finally, I would love to say a huge thank you to the Laidlaw team at Leeds: mostly Lorna (who is always there when I need her to answer my burning questions) and Beccy (whose advice always remains hilarious yet helpful). I also want to give my supervisor, Dr Daniel Edmiston, a quick shout-out for always being there to help me. 

And a huge thank you to my Leeds cohort for being such a perfect team. It’s easy to feel like an imposter (two members of my cohort are actually doing a project on imposter syndrome – which should be brilliant), but having such a great group of people around you is always so beneficial.

Quick-fire Questions

📺 Currently binging: Friday Night Dinner

📚 My top book recommendation: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood

🎵 My current anthem: Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin

 🎧 Podcast obsessions: Dua Lipa: At Your Service

🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: I went around Italy with one of my closest friends and we were in Florence doing karaoke. We sang our hearts out with the new friends we made, and it was a beautiful moment!


You can find Ariq on LinkedInIf you are interested in learning more about Ariq's research, check out his research poster or his experience in Berlin.

Ariq is a Laidlaw Undergraduate Leadership and Research Scholar at the University of Leeds. Become a Laidlaw Scholar to conduct a research project of your choice, develop your leadership skills, and join a global community of changemakers from world-leading universities.

Find out more about the Laidlaw Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship.

🔦 Discover more Scholar Spotlights: 

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  • Fatima Formuli (University of Toronto) on improving mental health access for Muslim Canadians and the importance of communities.
  • Bev Genockey (Trinity College Dublin) on using nature-based solutions to tackle environmental problems in urban areas, and humility in research & leadership.
  • Ubaha Shipoke (London Business School) on creating opportunities for women and raising awareness and funds for disadvantaged communities. 
  • Kobi Rassnick(Cornell University) on tackling food insecurity through animal welfare and connecting with inspiring peers.

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