Fahmida Rahman 

Community research team  

The reason this project appealed to me is because of the importance of history. I completed a history A Level a few years ago and I found that it allows each and every one of us to acknowledge that cultural, ethnic and national identity is very significant, especially in today’s society, where we have evolved into such great paths.

Hearing and learning about our hometowns, home countries, and related cultures has allowed me to gain a more meaningful insight into our ancestral roots, and how we got to where we are today.
This experience that I have been fortunate enough to be a part of has allowed me to embrace my identity, and be able to share countless stories with friends and family. It has allowed us to examine chains of events, and understand how one small occurrence can spark countless, invaluable incidents, and begin to understand the nature of change.

I hope in the future this book enables a trend through our following generations, where we can document our cultural diversity and experiences. I have faith this will encourage youngsters in my generation, and the generations after us, to inspire us to be the best we can be, due to the struggles our lineages have faced. Further, I anticipate it will encourage individuals to have the strength to pursue goals to develop a valuable perspective as we grapple with our problems, and try to prepare for a prosperous future.

Tahmina Ahmed 

Community research team  

Afzal Rahman 
Community researcher and editorial team

Tamirol Islam 

Community research team

Our place in this country is defined by the generations above us, who put us here. Not only do we have our own responsibilities to define our own identities in 21st century Britain, but we also need to understand where these identities came from. The only way to do that is to talk to those who’ve lived those times, and to document their accounts before they’re lost.

I believe it’s fundamental that our histories are kept not simply for ourselves, but also for our children and theirs too, primarily because histories unveil truths about the present – ultimately, understanding past and present realities sets the ground from which we begin to campaign for the longevity and futures of our communities.

I was particularly interested in hearing individual stories; history is best recounted anecdotally when you’re personally attached to the narratives. The opportunity to communicate with an older generation through their narratives sounded like an amazing way to bridge the generation gap, by working through their memories of an area we’ve grown up in.

Moreover, the promise of stories invites the personal asides, interesting little comments and individual characters into the histories.

This kind of research pierces straight through to the fact that these histories have rarely been documented. The appropriate academic disciplines for the content have ignored this fundamental part of the creation of London, because this history is commonly not a part of the historian’s background and they are, therefore, not tied to the narratives.

This means that if I were to look for an appropriate book on the topic, I wouldn’t be able to find it, which means people need to write it, which ultimately means the initiative is on the descendants of the interviewed, or us. If we don’t do it, nobody will, and then our history will be forgotten, as will a crucial element of our understanding of our lives in London today - the generations to come won’t know what the people who brought them here wanted for them.

I most enjoyed reading through all of the stories and opinions and working my way through the information they’d given us. I loved to hear the perspectives they have on our lives because it’s clearly something they care about, and something we need to take into account when looking at how we’re going about our lives.
I’d love to see more research of this kind. Specific histories need to be documented and I hope that this topic gains some more interest. Hopefully, we’ve encouraged readers to get involved in this sort of work, we’ve at least begun to fill a gaping hole of knowledge and ultimately, hopefully, I’ll be seeing more projects like this one (and even getting involved with them too).

The impact of the arrival of the first mass wave of Bengali migrants in the 60s and 70s is well documented. From the changing face of the East End of London to opening up their now world-famous restaurants, Bengalis have helped shape the idea that the UK is a multicultural country where different cultures can come together to succeed.

We often hear about the successes of these people, but what is not extensively recorded is first-hand accounts from the Bengalis themselves. The personal struggles of arriving in a new country, the professional discrimination, the racism and the overcoming of obstacles.

As a person of Bengali origin, I thought I understood the struggles of those before me. I wanted to document what I already knew, for people who were unaware. Working on this project has revealed a great deal that I never knew existed. It revealed stories of friendship, compassion, and acceptance. There is so much more that we still do not know, and now is the ideal time to find out.

Mobena Ahmed 

Community research team

I chose to get involved in this project as it gave me an opportunity to learn more about my dual heritage and contribute towards a special part of my history. Hearing the stories of those before me, has not only been exciting for me but also inspiring for me and my family. I have really learnt to value those closest to me, and feel more invested in their stories. Stories that I will continue to re-tell to the generations that follow.
Prior to this project, I had never been involved in any community related projects, so this was a great opportunity for me to meet some of the local people of Westminster, build new networks, and learn new skills. I think projects such as these, create wonderful opportunities for new generations to connect and share strengths. I would encourage more of my peers to contribute to our growing multicultural society by collecting and sharing stories of their heritage. History enables us to not only learn lessons for the future, but contribute to the building of a richer and more meaningful identity.

As British Bangladeshis, whose grandparents moved to the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, this project was very close to our heart. We don’t often get the chance to hear or share their stories. They are ageing, and we realised that it won’t be long before their stories are lost to oblivion, which is why ‘Faces of Westminster’ has been launched.

Giving first generation Bengali migrants a voice is a key agenda of Faces of Westminster. It has been an absolute honour and privilege to document the stories of our British and Bengali heritage.

Faces of Westminster celebrates the good, highlights the bad, and hopefully inspires action in our youth. History is not just found in academic texts – history can be at home, locked in the memories of our loved ones.

Romena Toki 

Community research team  

I wanted to be involved in this project in order to gain further knowledge about the Bengali culture, and how the past has shaped Bengalis today.

This project was interesting because, as a British person with a Bengali background, it was not difficult growing up in this country, due to my family living here and not facing much discrimination against ethnic minorities. This contrasts sharply with the 1960s.
The fact that Bangladeshi migrants had to settle in Britain without most of their family, and in a population full of British-born people, it intrigued me so much that I wanted to interview them personally, in order to understand the struggles they had experienced when they first came to Britain. Furthermore, it was appealing to find out the various factors that played a part in motivating Bengalis to migrate to Britain.

I enjoyed taking part in this project as it was a privilege to communicate with individuals who had played a major role in the British Bengali culture, as they shared their inspiring life stories. It is not an opportunity you get every day, to find out about my own culture, so I felt very pleased to gain more insight into the Bengali culture.

As the children and grandchildren of immigrants, we grow up hearing stories from older generations about leaving home and settling into a new country. These stories of migration are often filled with hardship, but the powerful forces behind them are those of hope and aspiration.

Bangladeshi migrants who moved to London in the 70s came with very little, but they spent their lives laying the foundations on which our generation builds. Many of us inherited their sense of purpose, and it can be difficult to find the time to stop and take stock of what got us to where we are.

With this in mind we brought together a group of young volunteers to begin a conversation within our community, to reflect, and to record these memories before they are lost. The stories speak for themselves and we hope this book will inspire others to have similar conversations with their grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles.

Views of our community researchers    

Faces of Westminster is a project which holds deep historical significance within the British Bangladeshi community, particularly with past and current residents of the borough. As a British Bangladeshi who resides in Westminster, this project resonated with me as it explored themes of culture, integration and community.

The significance of this project is profound, being that it accounts for the experiences of individuals who immigrated to the borough during the 70s and 80s, which otherwise may never have been documented. The oral accounts of the participants provide the readers with an authentic narrative of the social and economic triumphs made in establishing one's self during this period of time.
As a young British Bangladeshi, this project has been deeply insightful. It has allowed me to understand the significant contribution and sacrifices many individuals of my community have made, in order to establish a foundation for future generations.

Mr Azim Chowdhury 

Community research team 

This project appealed to me because its cause was so central to my own heritage and history. The journeys that Bangladeshi migrants made in the 60s and 70s dramatically altered the trajectories of the generations that followed them. The struggles they faced and the sacrifices that they made laid the foundations for the many successes of the burgeoning British Bangladeshi community of today.

The importance of documenting this history was clear to me from the outset. Much of my own desire to work hard, not only to achieve my personal goals, but also to strive for a better future for my family and the community around us, derives from my understanding of the struggles and sacrifices of my parents and grandparents. However, as these people grow older and approach the end of their lives, true knowledge of their legacy was in danger of being lost forever. This project provided a platform to preserve this legacy for the continued benefit of future generations.

I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in this project, and the opportunity that it provided to interact with so many courageous and inspiring individuals. I also greatly benefitted from the opportunity to develop my research and interviewing skills, and to diversify my communication skills. As an aspiring academic I believe that these skills will be of great use in my future.

Tahmidur Rahman 

Community research team  

Abu Taher Toki 

Community research team

Juned Mohammed

Mehrajul Islam

Editorial team

Growing up as a British Bangladeshi I was guilty of a lack of knowledge about the heritage which I come from. I knew many people within the Bangladeshi community, but had never heard about their own struggles and barriers. Countless times during the interviews, after hearing stories about how brave individuals sacrificed their families, friends and possessions, I was left dry mouthed and teary eyed.

The closest I could relate to these fearless men and women, was moving away to university. However, even then, I had the support of my family and I was only a train journey away from home. During my schooling years, I had learnt about numerous great individuals, but never did I fathom that there would be so many walking the streets of Westminster today.

As we dove deeper into this area, it became more apparent why this research was vital. The fact no one had ever created a project like this seemed absurd. The thought that after 20 years, many of these tales would have never been told, if not for this project, is ludicrous. It is essential for these stories to be read by many other people, not just young British Bangladeshis such as myself.

My favourite part of this project was the interview stage. On more than one occasion I forgot about my role as an interviewer, because I was lost in the stories. I came to realise that the best stories are not from fiction or films, but from the generations that came before us.
I found it very refreshing to hear about the support the Bangladeshi community received to help them with their integration into society.
Simply going to the doctors or pharmacist was a big hurdle, and without the support from individuals outside the community it would have definitely been a more daunting task. I have to admit that hearing some of the challenges the Bangladeshi community faced, has put some of my own barriers in perspective.

We should definitely conduct more projects like this in the future. It is important to explore under-researched areas, and bring to light stories of other cultures which are at risk of being lost. I am deeply grateful to CLYD for involving me in such an eye-opening and enriching project. I would also like to thank all the individuals who have shared their stories with me, because in order to know where I am going, it was important for me to know where I had come from.

It has been an amazing opportunity for us to investigate the history of those that have made a life changing decision to relocate to Westminster. We often hear of the struggles in Bangladesh, and how the lives of many have been affected.

However, their lives in Westminster have never been explored and, from my perspective, that is equally beneficial for our knowledge. This is what inspired me to be involved in this project. This history was about my ancestors in the borough that I currently live in - to play a role in uncovering their tales has been a great learning opportunity for me.

It is difficult to pinpoint my favourite part of this project, as all aspects of it have been so beneficial for my learning. I have learnt to work as part of a team, to plan the investigation, to develop our hypothesis and then set out to investigate. We were well supported and trained to feel and act like true researchers.

This project has enabled me to get back in touch with my roots. I have been inspired to learn more about my heritage and the culture that my family come from.

This project has been thoroughly enjoyable for me. During the interviews (off camera), I really built a good relationship with the Bengali migrants, and enjoyed listening to their tales and jokes. Their difficult times have been inspirational for me. My favourite part would be hearing how the older generation used their free time; it was amusing to hear that that people like my granddad used to go to the cinema, I would never think in a million years that my granddad would enjoy going to the cinema.

I hope to see more projects such as this, that help young people explore and celebrate hidden parts of their culture, it has made me feel even more proud of my Bangladeshi heritage. I am very grateful to the organisers for helping me appreciate and get back in touch with my culture.

Abu Sorwar Toki

Community researcher and Technical lead