Following the success of The Legacy of Women’s Contributions in 1971, Central London Youth Development (CLYD) decided to embark on its second oral history project. We encouraged our young researchers and volunteers to collect information about their community from various public sources.
While visiting the Westminster Archive Library, they were disappointed to discover that very little resources existed. There were no substantial records of the history of immigration and the role Bangladeshi immigrants played in introducing cultural, social and economic diversity.
A prominent number of Bengalis settled in Westminster between the 1960s and 1970s, and sharing their stories is the focus of our project. Coming to a foreign land and calling it their home wasn’t going to be easy, but they stood the test of time and today, the British Bangladeshi community is thriving.
Uncovering the Stories
As the hopes, fears, ambitions, and perceptions of life of our elder generation were not documented, we had to explore them first. It could not have been done without the help from our local communities, welfare clubs, politicians, and individuals who can make a difference.
Young members of our organisation took it upon themselves to explore the lifestyle of our parents and grandparents when they migrated to the UK.
We would like to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund, especially the grant officers, for substantial contributions for this project. Uncovering these wonderful stories was a team project, and we are grateful to the following people who supported our cause:
The names not mentioned here are not forgotten. We are extremely proud and thankful for everyone’s contribution and support.
Bringing the Stories to Our Youth
Our participants found the collection of oral histories of British Bangladeshis in Westminster challenging, but worthwhile. The project invited them to grapple with their dual identity of being British and Bangladeshi, and what it means to be second / third generation immigrants. This process proved valuable in getting people from the second and third generations to interact with their elders and learn from their experiences. Participants, both men and women, were interviewed in English and Bengali so that the true substance of their stories could be recorded and shared with the world.
In addition, we interviewed people who interacted with that first generation of Bengalis, which provided us with a holistic perspective of their struggles and courage. We now have enough authentic information to share their stories.
Celebrating Life and Our Culture
I would like to add that Faces of Westminster is a community-led piece of research documenting the experiences of people who moved to the UK 50 years ago, with first hand perspectives of their settlement.
Although just a small sample, this book sheds light on some major aspects of migration, and how life as a Bengali Muslim and Asian in the UK has evolved in the past few decades.
Today, Bengalis, just like any other ethnicity, have their fair share of issues. At the same time, we have many reasons to celebrate our history, culture, heritage and legacy.
We feel very proud and grateful to our young people for gathering and preserving stories of their heritage, before they were lost for ever. We hope that future generations are inspired to follow in these footsteps and create unique platforms for these stories to be shared.
Abdul Aziz Toki