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The journey of two refugee families in Blackpool

The decision to house refugees in Blackpool was contentious with local Conservative politicians - here two families from Hong Kong share their experiences and how some of that rhetoric made it more challenging to settle in

February 15 2024, 11.00am

Standing next to the North Pier, Cheng looked across the seafront. He looked tired and dejected in his chef’s apron. 

Cheng has been in Blackpool for over two years. He was one of the first to get a British National Overseas (BNO) visa when it was opened up for people from Hong Kong in January 2021. 

Cheng with his wife and two daughters applied for the BNO visa and was granted entry into the UK in August 2021. The government chose his family along with 216 other Hong Kongers to live in the Metropole in Blackpool.

The Metropole is a Britannia Hotel - a chain that is regularly cited as among the worst in the UK, 

“I used to live there,” Cheng told The Blackpool Lead, pointing to the hotel. 

“And now I work there,” as he pointed towards the nearby Wok Inn. 

When Cheng moved to Blackpool in 2021, he came with the hope of restarting his life. He left behind his life as a local business owner at least in part due to political tension in Hong Kong.

Unfortunately, Cheng and his family weren’t met with the welcome they had hoped for. 


Within a month, then-Conservative MP Scott Benton, issued a statement which said that he wished Westminster had not chosen Blackpool as the place to house refugees.

The statement read: “I fear that the burden of housing these asylum seekers has fallen disproportionately on northern towns like Blackpool whose public services are already stretched by high levels of deprivation and the impact of Covid-19.”

In the rest of his statement, he compared these refugees to illegal immigrants and added: “This decision is disproportionate and damaging for Blackpool”.

Benton was not the only person to speak out against the plan. Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said that the choice of accommodation was ‘deeply inappropriate’ while Lynn Williams, council leader for Blackpool Council, said she had ‘serious concerns.’

But while others criticised the accommodation itself, Cheng, was hurt by the tone of Benton’s message.

He said: “I came here to see somewhat of a change in life, but in the very first instance I was provided with hate. I was essentially told that I was not welcomed here, and in the weeks to come my interactions with other people certainly showed that.”

In the next few months, the UK had accepted more refugees from Afghanistan, and as that happened news broke about how certain far-right groups were breaking into hotels.

Cheng did not notice anything quite as extreme as that, though reading the news about it did add to his discomfort. Far more pertinent was his own family’s experiences. 

“My daughters would love going to TCB (The Chinese Buffet), down on Church Street, which is just a five-minute walk from here. But on the walk there occasionally we would get to hear slurs and get told that we are the reason Covid-19 happened.” 

He said each time Scott Benton would comment on the issue of refugees, either in parliament or to the media, the levels of confrontation he would face would increase. 


The Metropole in Blackpool. Credit: The Blackpool Lead


In August of 2023, after living in hotels and similar accommodation across the city, Cheng found housing for his family on Lord Street. He is hopeful that Benton’s time as an MP is coming to an end. Now Former Conservative MP Benton has said he will appeal his recommended suspension from parliament and intends to make a formal complaint over it. That followed an investigation by The Times where he suggested he would be willing to break lobbying rules in exchange for money.

Scott Benton did not respond to The Blackpool Lead’s request for comment. 

“See the polls are against him, it doesn’t seem likely he is coming back. Even his party has dropped him. So I think things will change.”

Cheng is conscious that there are other factors at play in some of the abuse he has faced. 

He said: “Yeah, I mean I don’t like Benton, don’t get me wrong, but he is a product of his voters. 

“They voted for him, they broke the ‘Red Wall’ and they voted for Brexit. So you cannot deny that their opinions exist or that they want their problems to feel valid.”

“However,” he added: “I don’t blame Benton, but I blame the general system that led to this. I mean if nearly millions were trying to come to my country I would be proud to see what my country is offering them, but sadly here that is just not the case.”

Jack is a single mother-of-two who came to Blackpool at the same time as Cheng and his family. She had similar experiences to Cheng. She relocated to a different area of Blackpool as a result. 

“I did not want my children to be exposed to that, so I decided it was not worth staying in that area,” Jack told The Blackpool Lead.

She now lives close to Bloomfield Road. Her younger daughter likes playing football and has been trying to get into Blackpool FC’s youth academy, which is a five-minute walk for her. The issue has not gone away completely. 

Jack said: “Racism is still prevalent. Moving areas has not changed it for me.”

On one occasion, she was dropping her children off at a Blackpool game, and visited the Taco Bell. Heading home after collecting her food, she was approached. 

“He was under the influence, cannot say drugs or alcohol, but he was not sober."


Kendal Road in Blackpool. Credit: The Blackpool Lead


She said that swayed toward her and yelled in her face: “What are you people doing here? We voted to not have you here, do you not realise that you are not welcome?”

She said: “I kept moving. I dodged him, and just power walked home.” 

Two hours later she had to go out again and bring her girl back.

“Obviously I was scared. But like I said, I am not going to let my kids be exposed to that kind of racism. At least not on their own. Hence, I walked with them and brought them back. On the way I did see the man, in no state to bother us."

Her relationship with her local area has seen positive developments of late.

People in Foxhall Village just across from her occasionally host book clubs which she attends. She said that they take an interest in her background but also do not let her feel left out of the group.

Even better, her children have made friends in school that do not view them as outsiders.  

“It has taken a while” Jack said, “but finally I think we are being accepted as just residents of this town. And it may take a while more before we don’t feel it, but it may not always be like this.”

Councillor Paula Burdess, Cabinet Member for Community Safety, Street Scene and Neighbourhoods at Blackpool Council, told The Blackpool Lead: “I am saddened to hear that anyone has experienced abuse on our streets, we have shown time and again our commitment to tackling the feelings of safety and security people feel when they are out and about in Blackpool – and this work continues grounded in education and myth busting as preventative tools as well as enforcement when abuse happens. 

“We have a long, successful history of welcoming people from all over the world to our town. I am really pleased to hear that the people that have shared their story have decided to make Blackpool their home and are feeling welcomed by the community – that is the Blackpool I know and love. I know that we are seeing a vibrant community from Hong King grow in Blackpool with a real interest in contributing to the prosperity of the community as a whole.”

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