My Burnley: 'II'm staying here until my last breath leaves me:' says award winning dancer, rapper and music producer Lee Abbott

The race riots of 2001 were the catalyst for Lee Abbott to leave Burnley.
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He never thought he would return, but gaining a degree helped him to understand the root cause of the riots and stop blaming who he thought was responsible. A former award winning break dancer turned rapper and music producer, Lee hit the headlines this week with a video he made about his hometown that has clocked up 50,000 plus hits on YouTube.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Lee Abbott. I’m 46 years old and grew up in Burnley Wood. My main job these days is looking after people with disabilities and I absolutely love it. I also run a record label called Northentic Records and gig as rapper/music producer.

Rapper and music producer Lee Abbott is the subject of this week's My Burnley featureRapper and music producer Lee Abbott is the subject of this week's My Burnley feature
Rapper and music producer Lee Abbott is the subject of this week's My Burnley feature

How long have you lived/worked in Burnley?

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I was born in Burnley (Edith Watson ward - proper Burnley!!! haha) and lived in Burnley until the riots in 2001 acted as the catalyst for me leaving and following a career as a professional dancer. Burnley Wood was in a mess after the riots and I can remember feeling dismay, especially as racial issues were a big part of the trouble. As a Hip Hop head, racial equality is a standard and diversity is celebrated. When I travelled to other countries as a dancer I made a lot of life long friends of all races who only ever treated me with love and respect. It allowed me to see what real people are like behind the propaganda and lies.

Why did you choose to live/stay/work in Burnley?

I was reasonably happy in Burnley until the riots and then moved to Reading, Berkshire, for quite a while. Towards the end of my time in Reading I was teaching dancing in youth clubs. The person who employed me in the youth service was a Pakistani lady called Sunita. I asked her if she would employ me as a full time youth worker. She told me she could, but the money would be rubbish without qualifications. She suggested I go to university and I honestly laughed at her. A week later she called me to the office and presented me with a university application. I couldn’t believe it. She had taken the time to contact them for an application form on my behalf. I did a terrible job of the application on purpose because the idea of uni was terrifying to me.

University was where clever people went and not folk like me. I gave her the application form back thinking that will get her off my back. Unfortunately for me she had photocopied the blank form and took my weak effort home, corrected it, gave it me back and asked me to amend it following her notes. She was only a small woman and bossed me about with no fear. The thing is…. she believed in me where I didn’t believe in myself.

After three forced attempts she felt the application was good enough and sent it off for me. I then attended an interview and managed to get in at Derby Uni where I studied Community and Youth Work. Eventually I achieved a 2:1 Honours Degree.

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That lady changed my life, and my love, respect and gratitude towards her is huge. Here’s the point of me telling you all this - When I left Burnley I was hurt by the place and blamed the people for the issues that had happened (losing friends to drugs, race riots, deprivation etc).

I honestly intended to never come back. However at university I learned about the real underlying causes of these issues and it allowed me to come home. I realised the issues were beyond the control of everyday people and the problems were mainly due to poor governmental strategies to look after people properly. I came home in 2009 and fell back in love with the place and haven’t looked back since. I’m staying here till my last breath leaves me.

What do you think are the best parts of the town?

It’s the people and the places. The people especially are amazing. I love the characters and I love the humour. There’s some amazing creative talented people around town. Even Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) is a Burnley fella!!! Hollywood legend!! Look at the music scene too…. Amazing DJ’s, amazing musicians, great artists and great support. I think one of our best traits is to use humour to get through dark times.

We have some great storytellers in this town too, characters that can make you lose control of your legs because you are laughing so much. That laughter where you have to cling on to something just to stay uprigh.! I love that. I love feeling it.

Is there anything you dislike about Burnley?

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I think there’s some old outdated beliefs still hiding in the last shadows, but we must always work towards peace and equality. As a child I developed some racist attitudes as that’s what I saw where I was from. I thought it was normal - but Hip Hop culture educated that out of me. I often think that the Pakistani lady who believed in me and got me into university was a form of good karma for learning why you shouldn’t be a racist.

Also when my little boy very nearly died at birth, it was a team of Pakistani, Indian, and English doctors that without doubt saved my child’s life. They went beyond just doing a job, their passion for their jobs, along with their education and caring attitude gave me the best thing that was ever happened to me.

I don’t believe it’s a racist town really, and much of the past resentment between races has settled… but every now and then I hear a little bit of disposable negative language that is gradually disappearing. Let’s keep on getting rid of it. Peace, love and unity to all. Don’t let people convince you that other cultures hate you. They don’t. Most people are simply trying to survive and find peace.

How would you describe Burnley to a visitor who has never been here before?

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A place with a deep diverse history. A town that has seen tough times but also has some amazingly beautiful places to visit.

Great parks, beautiful old buildings, and the local countryside is second to none. Make sure you are up for heavy banter if you visit though… it’s just who we are. It’s actually a form of affection. We will wind you up, but like it to be given back. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and once you are bonded with us we will never ever see you struggle. If we can help, we will. Let’s stay like that. It’s a beautiful characteristic.

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