Ever since the wheels of industry started turning in Bradford, people have travelled here seeking work – and hope.

As Bradford became a world leader in textiles, people settled here from the countryside, from other areas of Britain and from around the world.

The district’s diverse communities now form a kaleidoscope of cultures. While they remain proud of their roots, many immigrant communities are also proud to be Bradfordians. Today they are united beneath the flags flying for St George’s Day.

Roben Mutwira, a refugee from Zimbabwe, said he’s proud of Bradford’s tolerance towards immigrant communities.

“On behalf of refugees and asylum seekers here I thank the people of Bradford for the help they have given the refugee community,” he said. “I chose to make Bradford my home mainly because people here are good people – a people with a soul.”

A university-educated teacher trainer, Roben came to England where his daughter, a nurse, was dying of cancer. As an opponent of Robert Mugabe’s regime, he was advised not to return to Zimbabwe.

Roben claimed asylum and it took five years to gain refugee status.

As vice-chairman of Bradford Refugee Forum, he now helps other immigrants. “After claiming asylum, I was in a holding centre before I was moved to Bradford, which I had never heard of,” he said. “The town was smaller than I expected. My initial impression was a city of demolitions.

“But slowly I fell in love with Bradford and its people. I have yet to meet people more determined to accommodate others’ problems. Their hospitality is exceptional. Over 50 organisations give assistance to refugees, asylum seekers and the destitute.

“Those which changed my life include Bevan House Primary Care Trust, which helped with my medical needs – everyone there still remembers my name – and Bradford Immigration and Asylum Support and Advice Network (BIASAN).”

Roben credits Bradford’s churches with offering support. “Most asylum seekers, refugees and destitute are members of some church organisation. Bradford is lucky to have dedicated Christians like Will Sutcliffe, the man at the centre of Bradford Ecumenical Asylum Concern’s struggle to provide housing. Many Bradford families are taking in destitute people.”

Rashid Awan came from Pakistan in 1966. “My wife and I came to London at first. When we moved to Bradford people were a lot more hospitable,” he said. “I joined the police after the 1965 bill allowing people from the Commonwealth to join.”

Rashid worked for Bradford’s police force under Harry Ambler, former chief constable in Bradford. “Immigrants were settling here and I was useful for language problems,” said Rashid. “I spent 26 years as a police officer. I have lived in this city most of my life and am proud to be part of it.

“When the first Asian people came here, many worked in textiles, then the second generation set up businesses. Now there are well-established, successful business people contributing to Bradford’s economy.”

Grandfather-of-five Rashid, who has an MBE for community work, said tolerance of Asian communities has improved: “At first people said the smell of curry was bad, now curry is a common feature uniting communities. I am full of praise for how Bradford people have accepted so many cultures. We couldn’t have chosen a better city. I am proud to be a Bradfordian.”

As president of the West Yorkshire Society of Pakistan, Rashid organises charity events; the society recently held a charity dinner for the British Limbless ExServicemen’s Association at Bradford’s Hilton Hotel. “Soldiers are fighting for the country, we have a duty to support them,” he said.

Many of Bradford’s communities are rooted in Eastern Europe. Settlers arrived from refugee camps after the Second World War, with little more than the clothes they wore.

Bradford was one of the first branches of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, formed in 1946. Chairman Orysia Chymera grew up attending the city’s Ukrainian church, community centre and Saturday school. The Ukrainian community has choirs, dance groups and a football team. Its young female choir represents the UK at international events. “My parents’ generation came as displaced people, knowing nothing about Bradford, and built their own community for support,” said mother-of-four Orysia. “They settled in Bradford to work in mills and integrated well. We’re a hard-working, self-sustaining community. Now we’re on to the fourth generation and it’s harder to keep younger ones interested in the old customs. We’re all Bradfordians but it’s important to maintain our traditions. As children, we taught our parents English then we brought up our children to speak Ukrainian.”

Helena Danielczuk’s Polish parents arrived after the war, victims of Stalin’s regime. Her father was deported to Siberia and her mother endured forced labour on a farm. The couple met in Bradford.

“Migration into Bradford is nothing new; it has been going on since before the Industrial Revolution,” said Helena. “Many nationalities made their home here and contributed so much. Irish Catholics and German and European Jews, Polish, Ukrainians, Italians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Hungarians, the Asian subcontinent and the Caribbean were among them. There are churches, synagogues, temples and mosques on Bradford’s skyline. “They worked in factories and building sites, helping to re-build the district and develop its economy, and building a new life for themselves. All made a visible contribution.

“As the generation born here to Polish parents, we straddle two cultures and have a debt of gratitude to Bradford for enabling us to live in peace and freedom, for the opportunities, education and enriching experiences. Those who lived most of their lives away from the land of their birth established the Polish school, bought their own church and clubs, worked hard and showed us how to be good citizens of their adopted city, the city of our birth, Bradford.”

As a community development worker at Sharing Voices Bradford, Helena works with new immigrants settling here. “Our city should be aware that there is a wealth of untapped talent which may well be utilised in regenerating Bradford,” she said.

England shares St George as a patron saint with Portugal, where Ana Townsend is from. Ana moved to England, aged 23, to visit her mother in London.

There she met her husband, Peter Townsend. The couple, who have a son, Philip, now run the Bradford Club, a place where old traditions and values reign.

Ana, of Heckmondwike, has spent 30 years in England and in the early years she struggled with prejudice. “I was not very well accepted – now it is rare for that to happen. England has become a lot more cosmopolitan and has adopted many European tastes,” she said. “I like British people and I like the food.”

Vlad Yamin was raised in central Russia. He made business trips to Bradford, meeting his wife in Napoleon’s casino. The couple settled here and, after his wife’s death 11 years ago, Vlad remained here. He established The Russian Restaurant on Manor Row, Bradford.

An online advert he placed for ‘a genuine Russian chef’ was answered by Natallia Cherkasava, from Belarus, who is his second wife. The pair, who live in Shipley, love their life here.

“We are free to move wherever we like but we choose to stay here,” said Vlad. “I love everything – the language, the people.” Natallia loves it too. “We are very happy here,” she adds.

Judy Peltier, whose parents arrived from the Dominican Republic in the 1960s, helps to run dance and drama group Xplosion which takes part in Black History Month in Bradford each year. She also organised the Bradford South Carnival, bringing together schools and community groups for a parade through the city.

“It had a huge impact on Bradford’s cultural life,” said Judy. “It celebrated Afro Caribbean culture and the fact that we have survived. It brought peace to areas of Bradford where there was anxiety and unrest. It didn’t matter what nationality people were; everyone joined in. It celebrated collectiveness, not losing our culture.

“The South Bradford Carnival put out the message that these young people are proud of where they live and that there is community cohesion and friendship there.”