"THE cold is what I remember most. I came here at night time. The houses were very dark and narrow. I remember the long hallway, I had never seen anything like that in a house.

“In Pakistan our homes were open, and light. We spent a lot of time outside with neighbours. Here it was very cold and some days I didn’t see anybody outside.

“There was no heater, just a coal fire to heat the rooms and water. I had never lit a fire before and I set fire to the carpet. “Most husbands came over first to find work, the wives were on their own. There was only one Pakistani shop in my neighbourhood, but the English neighbours were very friendly. The milkman always asked: ‘How are you today?’ If you dropped your purse in the street someone would run after you and give it back.”

These are memories of a woman who travelled from Mirpur in Kashmir to Bradford in 1971, one of the first generation of Asians who settled in the city. South Asian migration to the UK increased through the 1950s, 60s and 70s, with migrants coming from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Kenya and Uganda. While Bradford’s mills offered work, there was no cultural infrastructure in place for Asian communities. Many of the women who left families in another continent to join their husbands spoke no English and knew nothing about Bradford.

Over the past 18 months memories of more than 100 women of various ages have been recorded for a heritage project in Bradford. The brainchild of staff and volunteers at the Millan Centre, a Manningham community centre for women and children, the idea was to preserve stories of first generation South Asian women, who came to Bradford half a century ago, and younger women born and raised here, or who arrived more recently.

Called Hamaari Yaadien – Our Memories, the Heritage Lottery-funded project has culminated in a book, a DVD and a photographic exhibition at Cartwright Hall.

“The idea was to keep a record of women’s experiences – in settling here, getting married, bringing up children, going to work, and their challenges and achievements,” says project manager Paula Helliwell. “As well as preserving their memories and stories, we wanted to inspire future generations of Asian women, and encourage them to record their own experiences and explore their family heritage. It’s an ongoing project; we’re inviting more women to get involved through the website.”

Workshops were held at the Millan Centre, Womenzone, the Bangladesh Educational Achievement Project (BEAP) Centre, and Gurdwara Shri Gurur Ravi Dass. A range of women – from an over-50s group, English classes and women who have careers, run businesses or are in further education – took part in discussion groups and interviews carried out by Paula, staff and volunteers from the community centres, and sixth-form students from University Academy Keighley.

For the first South Asian women arriving in Bradford, daily life was a challenge. Tasks such as shopping, going to see the doctor and taking children to school were difficult for those with little or no understanding of English.

Zo Jan came here in the 1970s, following a 10-hour plane journey. Aged 13 and newly married, she came to join her husband, a bus driver in Bradford.

“There was an English lady next door, I didn’t know any English but I tried to talk to her. She was friendly. My husband said (in case of an emergency) go next door and say ‘ambulance’. When my sister-in-law was pregnant she was in pain with the baby coming, so I went next door and said: ‘Ambulance, baby’ and the lady called an ambulance,” she recalls.

“My brother-in-law’s children were at school, I spoke to them and learned from them. I watched a lot of TV and picked up some of the language from that.

“I didn’t know about England before I came here. My brother had told me: ‘You will be eating fish and chips all the time!’ There was only one halal shop, on Manningham Lane, then more shops opened as more people came.

“Now young women coming here have more freedom. They text their families. When I came there was no telephone, we had to write a letter or talk into a cassette and send it to our families. It took months to get a letter back.”

It was a foggy morning in May, 1970 when Hanifa Aslam arrived from Kenya with her two young children. “We stayed with my sister in a small flat off Lumb Lane. It was completely different to our big bungalow in Kenya,” Hanifa recalls. “Later we moved into a house near Lister’s Mill. All I had was two suitcases and two children. We had a good life in Kenya; a house, servants, a car. My new life felt very different. I used to sit and cry and think: ‘What am I going to do now?’ “My son asked me recently: ‘Mum, how did you cope?’ Sometimes I didn’t know how we would get through the next week. Now, when people arrive here they have advice, they know what help they can get with a young family. There is a doctor’s surgery on my street corner, a shop and a mosque up the road. I go to the Millan Centre, the knitting group, and lunch every week.

“But it was very different when I first came – you had to find your own way.”

As a young mother Hanifa, who was separated from her husband, got a job sewing men’s suits and coats, and later worked as a machinist at SR Gents and Seymours Shirts.

“I have always been independent,” she says. “When my children came here they could speak good English and they did well at school. I never missed a parents’ evening, it was very important to me that they had a good education and learned to stand on their own feet. My daughter went to university then trained to be a teacher. My son got a job with Bradford Council and now works in Saudi Arabia.”

For young South Asian women growing up here and coming here today, Bradford is a different city to the one awaiting previous generations. And developments in technology and social media now link people across the world.

Bakhtawar Bibi arrived in Bradford in 2012 to live with her husband’s family. “It was very different to the life I had in Pakistan. I was pregnant, I had left my parents and sibling behind and they felt a long way away,” she says. “I was very scared at first. Now I am learning English at the Millan Centre and I have made friends. It is a friendly neighbourhood, with lots of shops, doctors’ surgeries, schools and nurseries. It is very different for women coming here now – there is a community that is friendly and supportive and we have mobile phones, Skype and Facebook.

“When my in-laws’ families came here many years ago it was harder for women to settle here. They must have spent a lot more time at home on their own.”

Marcia Hussain grew up in Manningham in the 1970s.

“My parents came over in the late 1960s. My dad worked at Drummond Mill and my mum stayed at home with me and my brothers. She never went anywhere on her own,” she says. “My mum had hardly been out of her village in Pakistan and within a year of getting married she was bringing up a family in a country she knew little about. In the 1960s there was nothing for her and the other women, they had to form their own communities.

“I never gave it much thought when I was younger but now I think: ‘Yes mum, you were brave’. I told her this and she said: ‘We just got on with it’.”

For more about Hamaari Yaadein go to millan.org.uk