Heritage project reveals hidden stories of the brave women starting new lives

Heritage project reveals hidden stories of the brave women starting new lives

enerations of Asian Women have taken part in workshops for the project at the Millan centre in Manningham

From left, Zeb Bashir, Surji Cair, Uzma Kazi and Saira Neam at the Millan Centre

Asian women learning new skills and forming friendships as they began to adjust to their new lives in Bradford

First published in News Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Photograph of the Author by , Leisure and Lifestyle Editor

For one young bride from South-east Asia, starting a new life in Bradford in the 1960s gave her a freedom she had never known before.

“It was fantastic,” she says, recalling the bustling new city a world away from the life she’d left behind in rural Pakistan.

“When I came to join my husband, we spent a lot of time together. We went to the cinema, the park and for walks. He took me to Busbys on Manningham Lane.

“As more people came to Bradford from Pakistan, we went back to traditional ways and I stayed at home or with other women. But I still think about that time fondly.”

For another young woman arriving in the Sixties, life wasn’t so liberating. “When my husband went to work, he locked me in the room – we just lived in a room at that time – and I used to sit and cry. I missed my mum and sisters. I only went out three times in two years, to the doctors,” she says. “When we moved into a house and had children, I began to make friends. But it seemed very lonely for a long time.”

Another woman was taken by her husband to Manningham shortly after arriving in Bradford. “There’s the park,” he said, pointing to Lister Park. “And that way is the town. Find your way around.” With her husband at work and her family many miles away, the young mother had to make her own way in a strange new place.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when early Asian settlers arrived in Bradford, there was no cultural infrastructure. Women had left their families on the other side of the world. They spoke no English and knew little about the city that was now home.

Now their memories have been recorded for a heritage project focusing on Asian women’s experiences of settling and building lives in Bradford. Called Hamaari Yaadien – Our Memories, it has £44,000 Heritage Lottery funding and will culminate in a book, DVD and photographic exhibition.

Around 150 Muslim, Hindu and Sikh women have taken part in workshops held at Manningham Mills, the Millan Centre, the Bangladeshi BEAP Centre and the Leeds Road Gudjwara.

“We held discussions on marriage, home, health, education, immigration,” said heritage project manager Paula Helliwell. “The women who came here half a century ago were incredibly brave, leaving everything they’d known. Many had no education, yet had to learn English.

“They came from warm climates to a cold industrial place. There were no Asian communities like now.

“Women made sure their children had an education – now their children and grandchildren have their own businesses and careers. One woman spoke of coming to Bradford married, aged 13. At 17 she had three children. She came with no English and knew no-one – now all her children have degrees and good jobs.

“The success of later generations is largely down to these women, yet they’re often overlooked. This project reveals their hidden stories.”

Sixth-form students at University College, Keighley, have interviewed first, second and third-generation Asian women settlers as part of Citizenship studies.

“A lot of younger women said they hadn’t a clue what their mothers and grandmothers went through because they didn’t talk about it,” said Surji Cair, Millan Centre community development manager.

The project contrasts the experiences of early settlers and today’s young Asian women. “Many older women say it was a struggle initially, but they got through it,” says Surji.

“Today women face different struggles. While their mothers and grandmothers were based at home, women are now expected to work. Changes to the benefits system mean women who’ve been at home with children are faced with online application forms, when they’ve never used a computer. They want to work, but don’t know where to start.”

The Millan Centre, in Manningham, offers English classes to new arrivals. The heritage project documents their experiences, too. “Some have family here, others don’t, but social media helps them keep in touch. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was just airmail letters and a phonecall once a month,” said Surji.

One woman living with her sister-in-law’s family in a terraced house says: “We watch Indian dramas and lots of channels, but when our mother-in-law came there were only three channels. It was much harder for the ladies who came first.

“Today there are lots of shops in Manningham; we buy Asian food, clothes, jewellery, whatever we need. Many people speak Urdu/Punjabi, but we come to the Millan Centre to learn English and make friends.”

Another recent settler says: “In Pakistan I liked to play cricket, I had lots of friends. Now I am beginning again in a new country. It is not so strange – many people speak the language, there are plenty of shops, mosques and Halal food. We have mobile phones and Skype.”

The heritage project celebrates the achievements of Asian women, from the 1950s onwards.

“The triumph of this is the ordinary woman, and the legacy she left for successive generations,” said Paula.

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