Other British Bengali Communities
Rather than studying a particular place, we decided to look at restaurant workers and brides. This allowed us to explore some of the smaller communities of Bengalis across the UK and also to get a sense of how the Bangladeshi community in Britain is changing and becoming more scattered. This also meant that we could look at the role of the restaurant trade in the Bangladeshi community (explored under Migration Themes: Work) and changing patterns of marriage (explored under Migration Themes: Marriage).
For this part of our research, we interviewed people in Bradford, Shaw, Blackburn, Stoke-on-Trent, Birmingham and Colchester.
According to the 2001 Census, nearly 30% of Birmingham’s population were Black and Minority Ethnic. 70% of Birmingham’s population were White, 20% were Asian, 6% African or Black Caribbean, 3% mixed and 1% Chinese. Muslims made up nearly 15% of the city’s population.
Bangladeshis made up 2.1% of Birmingham's population (nearly 21,000 people) and nearly 14% of the Muslim population (the biggest group being Pakistani, at 70%).
Bangladeshis mainly lived in five of Birmingham’s 40 electoral wards: Aston is home to nearly 20% of the Bangladeshi community (including Aleya Parveen), followed by Lozells and East Handsworth (16%), Sparkbrook (13%), Bordesley Green (9.5%) and Nechells (8.6%).
Shoeb Chowdhury first arrived in Birmingham in 1971 but returned to Bangladesh as a child for his education. He came back to the UK in 1985. He told us:
The situation in England in the early 70s was different. There were only a few mosques and madrassas and not many Muslims… There were only 10 or 12 families. There were many Pakistanis. As there were only a few Bengalis, we would get together in one or two houses to socialise. The people were few in number so there was no sense of community. The Bangladesh Welfare Trust was the only organisation. When I came back here in 1985, the situation was different, the community was fully developed. Five or six organisations were active in Birmingham.
A former mill town, Blackburn lies 21 miles north-west of Manchester. In 2001, there were 137,500 people living there, of whom 77% (105,000) were White British. The town has a large BME population, with over 11% Indian (14,600 people) and nearly 9% Pakistani (12,000 people). With nearly 26% Muslims, the town has the third highest density of Muslims in England and Wales. The Bangladeshi population is, however, comparatively small: in 2001 there were less that 0.5% Bangladeshis in Blackburn – just over 500 people.
Laila Rahman and her husband
Laila Rahman first came to the UK in 1971 but moved to Blackburn in the 1980s. Her husband spoke of the industrial history of the town:
There were many textile mills. It was said that in December you couldn't see the sun because of all the mills, the smoke and the fog.
Laila Rahman told us the reason for moving to Blackburn:
Houses were very cheap compared to London… We did what we could afford to do… This is a very small area. It is a close knit community.
In recent years, however, the community has grown:
There are many Bengali households but they keep themselves to themselves… There are more people but they mainly work in the restaurants… Pakistanis live in one place and Gujarati Muslims live in another. Bengalis live in between… Our people generally concentrate in the town centre.
Laila also spoke of the connections to other nearby Bengali communities:
Many have relatives in Bradford. There is a strong Bangladeshi community. There are links, there is good communication between the cities, it is easy to travel.
In 2001, the City of Bradford in West Yorkshire had a population of 367,000 people, of which 78% were classified as White. The majority of the BME population is of South Asian descent (86%), with the largest group being of Pakistani descent, making up 14.5% of the total population. Bangladeshis are only 1.1% of Bradford’s population (nearly 5,000 people). 16% of the population described themselves as Muslim (75,200 people).
Bangladeshis mainly live in four wards in the city: Manningham, where 7.5% of the population is Bangladeshi (60% Pakistani and 21% White); Bowling and Barkerend, where they are 4.2% of the population (24.4% Pakistani, 61.3% White); Bradford Moor, where they are 3.5% of the population (54.4% Pakistani, 30.5% White); and City, where they are 2.3% of the population (43.2% Pakistani, 37.6% White).
Like Oldham, Bradford was a former textile town, and was the site of 'riots' in 2001.
Nurunnobi Miah arrived in Bradford in 1963 and worked in the local textile factories for 31 years, until his factory closed in 1993. He described Bradford to us:
The main area is this area, Bradford 1 [City Centre]. Bengalis lived here. There are mosques, madrassas and community centres. When people started bringing families, then there were problems over space. There wasn't enough room in the area for all the families. People started moving to other areas, Bradford 5 [West Bowling], Bradford 3 [Bradford Moor]… In Bradford 3, there are three mosques. People moved there. In Bradford 5, Bengalis built a separate mosque. Now people are moving to Bradford 2 [Eccleshill]. They'll build a mosque very soon. Now there are Bengalis in every area. They are growing day by day. Everything is getting better. Bengali families are progressing.
Mostafa Kamal arrived in Bradford in the early 1990s. He described the history of the South Asian community in Bradford:
The Pakistanis came 15 or 20 years before the Bengalis. The Indians came before the Pakistanis. The foreigners who came to this country much earlier adopted much of the English culture, though not all…When they first came, they lived in Bradford 1 because they were single and had no family. They lived in chaos, like the students in Bangladesh. They worked in a factory and the men lived together in a rented house. There were no Bengali women. After many years, the Bengali women arrived. When families came, the system of chaos disappeared. Women cannot live in chaos. Now there is no longer chaos. Everyone lives separately with their own family.
He also told us:
I like Bradford because more than 100 people from our village live here so I don't miss Bangladesh.
Colchester in Essex lies 56 miles north-east of London. Once the site of a large Roman settlement, it claims to be the oldest town in Britain. According to the 2001 Census, it has a population of 156,000 people and 96% are classified as White British or Irish. The BME population is comparatively small, with only just over 1% (about 1,800 people) classified as 'Asian' (including Bangladeshis, Indians and Pakistanis). Only 0.75% of the population are Muslims. Bangladeshis mainly live in two areas – Wivenhoe Cross and St Andrews, but make up only 0.19% and 0.11% of the populations in those areas.
Nizam Uddin Khan
In Colchester, there were not many immigrants. At that time, there was chaos in East London and other places where there were lots of immigrants… We came to Colchester and it was quiet. Colchester is an army town... I remember, once some army boys came in a group, they were drunk. They fell asleep in the restaurant… We called the police and the police took them away.
He spoke of the development of the community:
We were only three or four Bengali families… Later on our staff came, then their families. The number of families increased. In 1985 when we built the mosque, there were 10 or 15 families.
Colchester: Shakhawat Hossain
Shakhawat Hossain was born in London but spent his childhood in Bangladesh. He moved to Colchester on his return to the UK in the late 1980s. He told us:
My father didn't like me moving. He told me that I would not hear azaan [the call to prayer] and made some other points. I had counter arguments: I talked about the children's schooling and transport and the problems in Tower Hamlets… Bengalis always want to live with other Bengalis. I did not want to… Here the Bengali community is at an early stage. It's not big, but I think they are responsible people.
Shaw (Greater Manchester)
A leading centre for the textile trade in the nineteenth century, the town of Shaw forms part of the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham, Greater Manchester. It lies 2.3 miles north of Oldham itself. In 2001, the town had a population of nearly 22,000 people, of which 3% were BME and 2% of South Asian descent. 1.7% of the town's population defined themselves as Muslim (and 84% as Christian). Shaw has a long established Bangladeshi community because they came to work in the former cotton mills. The last cotton mill closed in 1989.
Korimunessa Begum arrived in the UK in 1975 to join her husband. She settled briefly in Hull and then moved to Oldham. She was unhappy in Oldham and told us:
I couldn't like those Bengalis [who were already living in Oldham] because they were dirty. I would tell my husband, 'Get a job and then we will get a house and move from this place. I don't like Oldham.'
Although there were very few Bengalis in Shaw when she first moved there, she made friends with her White neighbours:
There were no Bengalis, so I felt lonely. I mixed with English people quite quickly. I learned the language and started mixing with them. I used to go to the shops alone… The other women couldn't speak English, so they were afraid to even open the door.
Stoke-on-Trent is a city in Staffordshire in England. It was once famous for its role in pottery making. In the 2001 Census, Stoke-on-Trent had a population that was nearly 95% White British, and had very low levels of BME people (around 3% South Asians). Because of their very small numbers in the city, there was no breakdown of the Bangladeshi population.
Azim arrived in the UK in 2004 and has been working in a restaurant in Stoke-on-Trent since then. He told us:
There are a lot of Bengali families in this area. They have been here for a long time. I even know a family who have lived in this area for the last 30 years. There are many Indian restaurants. There is nowhere in the UK where there is no Indian restaurant.