Many of the South Asian women settling in Bradford half a century ago faced a lonely new life, in an alien industrial setting with a cold climate.

Communities weren’t set up to receive immigrants of the 1950s and Sixties; there was no cultural infrastructure and little opportunity for women to build a life outside the home.

“The bravery of these women – coming to the other side of the world, leaving family and everything they’d known behind – is very overlooked,” says Paula Helliwell, manager of the Hamaari Yaadien – Our Memories heritage project.

Its aim is to record the memories of first, second and third generation Asian women in Bradford, highlighting their experiences of settling in the city.

The 18-month project, which has received £44,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, will culminate in a book, DVD and photographic exhibition. It began this week with a workshop at the Millan Centre in Manningham. Others will take place at the BEAP Centre, supporting Bradford’s Bangladeshi community, and Thornbury Gudjwara.

“Discussions will be opened up on themes like education, health, marriage, immigration and the home, then we’ll do one-to-one filmed interviews,” says Paula. “We want to record memories, to preserve for the future and to highlight the impact these women made on Bradford life.

“To a large extent, these are hidden stories. There have been projects about the history of South Asian communities, but not specifically about women.”

The project is open to women of all South Asian heritage, including Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, and dual heritage, from those who stayed at home to raise families to high achievers such as former Lord Mayor of Bradford, Councillor Naveeda Ikram.

For first generation settlers, life in Bradford was very different from today. “Women who came in the 1950s and Sixties arrived in a white, industrialised environment.

“They came from a warm country where people lived largely outside, in close communities, to a cold place where they spent a lot of time indoors,” says Paula. “Many didn’t know anyone, it wasn’t like it is now, with fully-functioning Asian communities.

“We want to compare what life was like for first, second and third generation Asian women – their experiences of employment and domestic life, their expectations and how they were met.

“With the DVD, we’d like to include footage of Bradford places such as Lister Park, which have been key community focal points.”

The project pays tribute to the contribution women have made and their impact on successive generations.

“Those early settlers made sure their children had a good education and made the most of opportunities they never had,” says Paula.

“Their children, and grandchildren, grew up to set up businesses and build careers in the private sector. They wouldn’t have had all that without their mothers, many of whom didn’t have an education themselves.”

Surji Cair, community development manager at the Millan Centre, can empathise with women settling in Bradford.

Born in England, she was a young child when her father sent her to live in India. “He came over in the Sixties to work in textiles, and brought my mother and brother, but left my two older sisters in India. He didn’t want his daughters growing up here – he thought it was too western,” says Surji.

“I spent ten years in India then came back to Bradford aged 13. The day I arrived it was awful, cold weather. I couldn’t speak English, it was hard.

“A lot of women who came in the Fifties and Sixties imagined England to be very rich because they’d only ever seen it in films, then they arrived in working-class neighbourhoods, in cold, grey weather.

“Today there’s a good infrastructure, but women coming over in the Sixties had to learn English for things like shopping and speaking to the doctor. It’s very difficult to learn a new language when you have no academic background. Many had never picked up a pen.”

Although the project is aimed at first, second and third generation women, it is hoped that younger women will also get involved.

“It’s important that they learn about previous generations, and what those women did for them,” says Surji.

“It was difficult for us, as the second generation, to find our identity, but it’s even harder for girls now. There’s a fear that they’re losing a connection with their heritage.”