In Their Own Words
Telegraph Interviews | West Indian | Polish
Migrants speak about their experiences of their adopted homeland.
Telegraph: 3 Apr 2008
Interviews by Robert Colvile, Iain Hollingshead and Terry Kirby
Doug Richards, 49, American. Technology entrepreneur. Was an investor on the BBC's Dragon's Den. Lives in Cambridge. Married with three children. Arrived in the UK: 2001
"When I came to the UK, I was astonished by the warmth of the welcome - the people I met in Cambridge in particular gave me the best possible start as a technology entrepreneur.
Since then, I've helped attract millions in inward investment from the US, started several companies and co-founded an investment group that has helped dozens of other companies get off the ground [Richard founded Cambridge Angels, Trutrap and Library House]. So for me, the House of Lords' conclusion that immigration hasn't helped the economy seemed counterintuitive, to say the least.
The biggest problem, though, isn't the attitude to immigration itself, but the attitude to business. Britain is far less welcoming to entrepreneurs today than it was a number of years ago - not just because of the recent increase in capital gains tax, but because every decision Labour makes seems designed to hurt small businesses.
They pile on the bureaucracy, the meddling and the taxation, without dealing with problems such as rail and transport.
This, I think, explains the non-dom levy - it's not a sign of hostility to foreigners, but a result of the fact that the Treasury is broke. They've spent so much that they're desperate for cash, and non-doms are perfect because they don't have a vote.
But I worry that this is all creating a situation where those who are in the position my wife and I were in seven years ago - enterprising foreigners looking around Europe for a place to live, who have something to offer a country - will decide to give Britain a miss."
Faisal Gazi, 39, Bangladeshi. IT specialist. Lives in Woodford, Essex. Married. Arrived in the UK: 1999
"I was born in Bangladesh and first came to the UK in 1972. My childhood was split between both countries, and after studying engineering at Leeds University in the late 1980s, I went back to Bangladesh in 1991 to see if I could use the skills I'd gained. I got a job at Unicef, gathering data for its programmes. I also tried to set up an e-commerce website for a publishing company, but became disillusioned by the business culture, which is quite risk-averse.
In 1999, I arrived back in the UK with £40. I've now built a successful business as a freelance IT consultant, with clients such as Visa and Penguin. I couldn't use the skills I've gained in Bangladesh.
This report surprised me; it must be inaccurate. I thought attitudes had improved. I must be contributing something to this country as I know how much I'm paying in taxes. I also know a lot of highly skilled migrant executives who must be adding to the greater good.
Migration doesn't just involve economic benefits. If travel broadens the mind of the traveller, it also benefits the host country. Thanks to migration, Britain is an even greater country, a much more appealing, broader-minded place.
For migrant workers who want to give something back, England is still one of the best places to live. I have a lot of Bangladeshi friends who went to the States in the 1990s and now want to come here."
Monica Tkaczyk, 32, Polish. Hotel housekeeper. Lives in Acton Town, west London. Single, with son, Kamil, 14. Arrived in UK: 2004
"I came here because I wanted to find a new life for myself and I wanted to travel and live in a different country. Although I have a degree in politics and economics, I found it very hard to get a decent job in my home country and I ended up working as a cashier in a petrol station.
I came here and stayed with friends at first, but since my son Kamil came over two years ago I have rented a flat above a pizza takeaway shop. I consider this country to be my home country now, so the question of whether I am undermining the economy is not really an issue for me.
I work here and want to stay here with my son. He can have a better life here. He wants to learn about computers and study them at university. He already speaks better English than I do. I would like to get a better job, perhaps in a hospital or a post office, when I can speak English better.
I have everything I want. There are many Polish shops and I have lots of friends, and my son. We are happy here."
Asif Saleh, 34, Bangladeshi. Executive Director, Goldman Sachs. Lives in Ilford, Essex. Married with one child. Arrived in the UK: 2003
"After studying at North Carolina State university, I worked in New York then came to the UK. It has been an excellent experience, and I've extended my original three-year posting.
I've always found London very open and liberal in comparison to the States. For example, I don't have to explain to my colleagues about Ramadan. I feel pretty negative about this recent report - it is over-generalised.
There are lots of young professional migrants working in white-collar jobs who are definitely adding value. And if you go somewhere such as Brick Lane, all the owners of restaurants have a history of hard work and contributing to the economy.
This sort of news has a very negative impact - it makes me worried, having seen what happened in the States after 9/11.
I look at my five-year-old daughter and wonder what sort of country she'll grow up in. It's a global economy and Britain will lose out if it sets caps on immigration. This country needs to address the root problems of its economy, and not bark up the wrong tree by criticising economic migration."
Prof Gillies McKenna, 58, American Professor of Radiation, Oncology and Biology, University of Oxford. Lives in Oxford. Married, no children. Arrived in the UK: 2005.
"I don't think the issues raised by this recent report into immigration and the situation of non-doms are necessarily linked, but there is a definite danger that they might become connected in people's minds - and it's certainly unfortunate that they have come back to back.
From my conversations with people in the non-dom community, there is a perception that Britain is not as welcoming as it once was, and this is a shift that has come about in the past few months."
THE CHARITY WORKER
Daphne To, 27, Hong Kong. Charity worker. Lives in London. Arrived in the UK: 2005
"I think that the more English people get to know foreigners, or travel abroad themselves, the friendlier they get. I came over here for university, then came back three years ago to work. I was sharing a house with a girl who'd never stepped out of the country, and I often felt a bit like Shilpa Shetty in Celebrity Big Brother: sometimes, when there was a story about crime on the television, she'd blame the foreigners, and say how ungrateful they were.
I also argued a lot with another housemate because he couldn't understand my Chinese customs - in particular, the fact that I was from a sub-tropical area, and needed to have the heating up!
This isn't exactly racism - when I was at university, the Welsh and Scots felt equally out of place among the English, who tended to stick together. But it does make you uncomfortable, especially when it is combined with the way the media attacks immigration week after week.
There weren't nearly so many stories a few years ago. While I know they're mostly talking about Eastern Europeans, it makes you feel hurt as well. The reporting of the Home Office's mistakes over foreign prisoners, for example, seemed to see them as far more dangerous just because they were from overseas."
Neelesh Marik, 40, Indian. Senior VP, Value Chain International Ltd. Lives in South Croydon. married with one daughter. Arrived in UK: 1999
"I came here to help expand the IT firm Infosys. We had to build the business and quickly generated work for 3,500 people.
I would disagree with (the report's) contentions, which I think are emotionally driven.
I am a global citizen. If immigration rules here became discriminatory, I would have to take a decision whether I would stay or go. A loss to this country would be another's gain."
Robert Nowakowski, 28, Polish. Night receptionist at hotel. Single. Lives in central London. Arrived in UK: 2005
"I was educated in tourism at university in Poland and ended up working as a salesman. I came to London because I wanted to learn a different language and live in a different country – but I want to go back to Poland in maybe three to five years. When I first came here, there was a bad two or three months when I didn’t have any friends and I felt really alone.
It took some time to learn about job vacancies and where to live. I missed my family , but now my sister is here as well, so it is not so bad. London is an amazing place to live . I’m working as a night duty receptionist in a big hotel in west London. It’s hard work but my life is good .
I was one of a number of Polish people who got together to form a group called Poland Street, an association of young Polish people in the UK. It’s designed to give them a voice and to act as a unifying and cultural body. When I return to Poland, I want to work in tourism to help promote Polish cultural life and folk music."
Arek Jenek, 32, Polish. Runs a small subcontracting construction firm. Lives in a rented house in Stratford, east London. Arrived in UK: 2003
"I’m a trained electrician and plumber, which is what I used to do in Poznan, Poland. I came here because I had been promised a job, but when I got here I found there was no job . I spent two weeks looking for work and then some time working for someone else, who didn’t pay me the money I expected.
I was short of money, but my family helped and I had Polish friends who looked after me. That was the point at which I decided I was going to work for myself. So I set up a small company and I now employ seven other Polish and Eastern Europeans working in the building trade. We work for a company which specialises in supplying Eastern European contractors. I enjoy what I do, although it is hard work. I am making money, but not enough to buy a house yet, although I hope to in the future when I have enough cash. At the moment I have to rent. I really like living in England and want to stay here.
I don’t understand questions about Polish people undermining the economy. We work here, people pay us, we pay taxes. I don’t really think Britain is dependent upon Polish people: we are helping the economy by being here. I like British people and always enjoy working for them. My future is here now because I don’t really have a family back in Poland: most of them are now dead, though I do have a sister in Germany, but I still think this will be the place I will stay. I like most aspects of life here and enjoy British food, particularly the British breakfast.
Sometimes it’s better than Polish food. Life here is much better for me than in Poland: it is more orderly and organised. It’s very good. After the bad start, people have treated me well and I have been very happy here. I’m single at the moment – so maybe when I have the time I will look for an English wife."
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West Indian Immigrants
Immigration accounts from Moving Here
Migration from Jamaica to Huddersfield
Contributed by Eustace Ford
My name is Eustace Ford, I live in Birkby, Huddersfield. I came to the UK to join family (my sister and her husband) for work and to get a better life.
I used to live in Kingston. I left my original parish of St Elizabeth. Things were quite nice, going on up and down - quite a happy country. But the money was slow in coming. I remember I used to work in a factory called West Indies Chemical Works, a factory that made things from wood. All the end products, I assumed, were used to tan leather. The factory kept closing and reopening so money was tight. I remember I used to ask the head chemist a lot of questions about England as he had studied here, and one day I was joking about ice in a bucket and I asked, ‘Is England as cold as this?’ And he said, ‘Everything was colder in England.’
Passage to the UK
I came over in 1960 on the ship ‘Herpinia’ or a name similar. I assumed it was an Italian boat.
I travelled from Jamaica to the West Indies and we picked up other people. It took twenty one days to get here. The boat journey was quite nice… when you got used to it and knew what to expect. From an Italian port, we came by train and a small boat and a ferry. Then from there we travelled on the train from London to Huddersfield. I remember arriving in England vividly. I arrived at Huddersfield Railway Station and in the front there used to be a little taxi place, a little round house and I go and ask the taxi man to take me to 19 Springwood Street and he says, ‘It’s just up the road there, lad. You don’t have far to go.’ I say, ‘Well I don’t know where I am going.’
So, I arrive at 19 Springwood Street on Thursday morning, in January. There was snow and everything. I saw all the houses with the chimneys on top and so on. I remember when the taxi gentleman dropped me off. He knocked to tell me we had arrived at 19 Springwood Street and said, ‘Here we are here, lad.’ I thought it was a factory; in fact I thought most of the houses with chimneys were large factories. It was a hard time.
It was an expensive journey. My sister booked my fare for me. At that time it was £75 if you went by ship, it would’ve been £85 on the plane. It was equivalent at that time to three to six months’ wages. I had just turned 30, but the most important thing was to see my family.
Work and pay
Yes, I remember my first job. It was easy to get jobs, but the pay was very poor.
Somebody got me a job with a company where they make chimneys and pipes in Wakefield. And believe me, after three weeks, and that was three weeks too long, I had to run because it would have killed me. I was young and strong but it would have killed me.
That was only £6.13 a week and I have to pay tax, and national insurance, so I came home with about £5.00. I left and I went to work up in Lindley. To work for a private man who did work on a motorcar. I’d rub the car down and mechanical things. It was a little bit better than where I was before because I could get £8 in my hand. I stopped there a little time; then I pushed on and tried different places to try something better. A good day’s work was easy to get, you could step from one job to another but they were all cheap labour.
I left there and went up to Honley and worked with a man named, I can’t remember now. Anyway, they used to manufacture seeds for animals. I stopped there again for about 3 months because the place was terribly cold. Samuel Drakes, the place was terrible cold because they didn’t want to put heat on because it would dry the seed too much. I remember I got up one morning and I put my pyjamas on underneath my clothes as it was so cold.
I had a succession of jobs from then.
And my last job before I retired was in a foundry on Colne Road. They melt iron, brass and aluminium. I wasn’t moulding; I was cutting the ends straight from the furnace.
And I stayed there for 28 years, and, believe me, it wasn’t good either but I decided I can’t run from here anymore.
When I first came I heard people talking about fish and chips and I thought what the devil are they talking about? So I remember one particular day I went and bought fish and chips and a bottle of ginger beer and I tasted the thing and threw it away because I couldn’t get used to it.
But at that time we used to get West Indian food but not a lot, not like now.
It’s taken me a long time to eat fish and chips. ‘Yorkshire Pudding’ I’ve only recently become knowledgeable about and tasted it, but I’m not a great fan of it. I’ve heard of mustard, a yellowish thing they use, but I can’t remember ever having it.
I’m still living in the house I first bought and still got a year or so mortgage to pay. I would prefer to be living in Jamaica because I know my wife would go back tomorrow morning - and she’s been here 40 years.
Jamaica is my home. We had always planned to go back, but I didn’t make that preparation, that is my carelessness. We really thought the wages would be more substantial and they were not, so we couldn’t afford to save up.
Although I am a British citizen, Jamaica is my home. In the Caribbean people are brought up to respect the older ones. They say, ‘yes m’am, no m’am, yes sir, no sir.’
I was born and grew up in Jamaica and it’s my home, because if I say England is my home I disown Jamaica and I would never like to do that.
A man or a woman who disowns their country is like a man who says their mother is not their mother.
Migration from Grenada
Contributed by Lionel Noel
I live in Dalton but I was born in St. Patrick in Grenada. I didn’t live there for long. I went to Cariccou when I was four, did my schooling there and lived there for fifteen years. I didn’t work. When I was eighteen I left and decided to travel. It cost around 80 American dollars to travel to the UK. I left on the 4th March 1962. I had friends living in England London and a cousin and my brother. I came to London first then Huddersfield. Worked at Cross Church Street in town. I also worked at Penistone and Sheffield.
Impressions of Huddersfield
I thought England was a very cold place. Once I went for a stroll in town and saw snow for the first time. I had to pay 1 shilling for a raincoat.
My wife came a month after to join me so it wasn’t that hard. I missed my friends but some were in England and America and Canada, anyway. The West Indian likes travelling - I can’t stay in one place.
Huddersfield wasn’t strange for me, as I had friends and a good job to come to so no problems. I did a job in furniture. In the 1960s you could get a new job in ten minutes. Every three months I moved jobs.
There was a shop that sold some West Indian food it was on Longroyd Bridge and we could also order some things off one man but they never had red bananas.
Carnival in Trinidad
I remember we used to go parties and clubs back home they always had live music. Instruments like the clarinet, saxophone, piano, and cello.
The biggest carnival is in Trinidad and I went many times. Each van would have 200 people on them. They have steel drums and calypso on Sunday Monday and Tuesday. One band could have 300 people. 15 - 20 bands from all parts of Trinidad. Brazilians came over and played too.
I took part in carnival as a young man by using my fists. The police used to turn a blind eye to districts fighting each other. It was just part of carnival in those days.
Migration to Huddersfield
I was born in the Caribbean, in St Georges Grenada. I have two brothers and one sister.
My two sisters came to the UK first, and then I did, when I was nearly ten, then my brother. We came here because my mum and dad were here. My grandmother was looking after us in Grenada.
First Experiences of the UK
My first impressions were that the UK was cold and dismal. Come December and you walked along you felt this chill and I thought, ‘where am I? Is this England?’ Everything was so dark and every time you spoke, fog came out of your mouth and I thought, ‘Jesus what kind of world is this?’
Anyway, as the days went by and I started going to school I remember the first time I witnessed snow - this white thing that came out of the heavens! At the beginning it was nice and warm coupled with sleet along with rain and if it remained it turned into ice.
School was Ok but African Caribbeans did witness some racism in school because you were different. But you were called names, wire brush head and all that. I just looked at them sort of strange and thought, ‘what is their problem?’.
At the end of the day people do get used to people. I think most people living here, especially if you lived in an only white neighbourhood, felt threatened by the presence of black people. Now there is more diversity. And yes there is racism and discrimination but that’s a human thing. That’s to do with somebody that has an emotional problem. Because if there is no emotion you wouldn’t have any hate for no-one, would you. However I haven’t been back to Grenada since I arrived. Amazing, isn’t it?
Black people were living in England a long time before, since the 18th Century. I think they did an ethnic cleansing back in those days to justify it, to say there was nothing of any black people being in England at that time from the 16th and 17th centuries.
But growing up in the 70s was all right.
The carnival was really one of the biggest attractions of the year. We joined with the Mayor’s Parade, with the Majorettes, and the Mayor was in front carrying a massive sceptre and marching through town and into Greenhead Park. And I think about 10 years after that, the African Caribbeans sort of broke away and it became just Carnival.
I think some of the white people thought, ‘if that is music, Jesus I’d rather be in Hell’. I don’t think they understood that it’s a cultural thing to the Afro Caribbean people. That in their country this is what they celebrate.
A lot of people don’t understand carnival. Carnival is a remembrance of the Afro Caribbean people and what they have gone through, remembering the period in history when they were enslaved and the emancipation of that, the freedom. That is why Afro Caribbeans come out to celebrate in memory of freedom from their Colonial masters.
Huddersfield Carnival Memories
Huddersfield Carnival 1974
My earliest memory of going to carnival in Huddersfield was 1974, once it had changed from the Mayor's parade. In the 1970s, the steel band was the main attraction more than the sound system.
But as times go by there was a lot less of the steel band and a lot more of the sound system.
In Jamaica there was a lot more sound system and reggae. Whereas in Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada and Caracou there was more calypso. At first it was kaiso then it went to calypso and now its soca. It’s the rhythm of the pan. Nowadays it’s a mixture of them all.
Today the youngsters like reggae and rythmn and blues and hip hop whereas the older generations like the calypso and soca, it’s not an island issue.
Carnival in Grenada as a Child
I remember going to carnival in Grenada aged around seven, It started from Luc(k)as Street and went round St Georges into River Road Park, which is at the other side of Grenada, past the market.
Before the procession there is a thing called ‘Juva’ morning. That’s at 1.00 o’clock …. and people would come down from the country, from St David’s with painted faces and masks.
I think my first experience of that was when my mum said ‘go outside’ at 4.00am in the morning, and all I could see were shadows. Then when the day became lighter I saw all these faces and it was really hideous. As a child of 6 or 7 you were scared.
This guy in a mask chased after me and knew I was scared so I bought a mask at the time it was 3 or 5 cents and as I was walking I’m thinking how can I get my own back, someone scared me I want to scare someone. Because that’s the way people operated when you were younger, getting your own back. So as I walked down this field, there’s this bit of land not far from a place called Cooper Hill (which are steps) off Tirrell Street. I saw this little lad in a field playing around, there were some houses not far from where I thought he lived. So I decided to scare him. I felt bad afterwards as he was only about five.
Whereas in England I don’t think the British public understand this. I don’t think they want to understand it. I’ve said to someone, do you realise that carnival starts in early morning ‘Juva’ (Antigua) in your house, at 3.00am in the morning and you hear ‘boom, boom’ this massive thunder of drums coming down and ‘Jabjab’ (Grenada) is when they put on masks then we have the procession.
But when they all assemble in the park, which is on River Road, it’s amazing. They’re judged on whose is the best costume and to me it’s more like an art display. Which is the best artist, which is the best costume and they are judged on that. If they got first prize, I don’t know what money they were offering at the time; it could be a thousand, two thousand dollars.
So, carnival has been a really nice experience of growing for me, because at a really early age I remember trying to play the steel pan. We used to burn the pan and tune it.
The tin for the pan could be anything, like molasses, butter or oil tins. Get a fire and put it on it, it’ll heat the tin and then after it’s cooled down. You start indenting squares and each of those squares you can put A, B, C, D, and play doh, ray, me, so, far, la, tee, doh. So you have the tenors and you have the bass. You have the rhythm (I can’t remember the name), that one you can hear high pitch, like E, F and G.
My kids went on to play for North Stars Steel Band.
It’s the steel band that makes carnival, that’s what it’s about. The music is like the beat of the heart. People years ago have tuned the pan exactly how they want to play and if the Queen has a steel orchestra it means she likes steel bands. It means it’s good and it’s not going to die.
And coming back to the 60s, (my mum’s era) famous calypsonians were: Kitchener, The Duke, The Explainer and Sparrow and when you listen to these guys, these are not guys who are educated, but they are educated to a point where the things they say are so amazing. I love to listen to Calypso, it’s about life.
I identify with it because I am Afro Caribbean. It’s something I grew up with. It’s been happening since as early as I can remember.
Contributed by Naomi Murrell
I came to England when I was 21, in August 1962. That's when I came here. Cold. Very cold. When I came here everybody looked alike. Then I met one English lady, her name was Nellie. We used to call her Auntie Nell. She was very nice. She took me around shopping and she showed me places. She was a very nice woman. She lived at Brimington. I used to live in Brimington. There were another two black families living in Brimington. I was living in a bedsit, with a black family. After a year I went to Duke St, Staveley, then Catherine St in Brampton, and then we bought our first house on Foljambe Rd that was in 1964. Coming to England and leaving Grenada, I don't know what I felt. In those days as a young person you want to go you know? England, big country, you know. Because I mean you hear, reading books, hearing on radio - we hadn't television on the island. So it was a pleasure to get out.
From Manchester, Jamaica to Wolverhampton
Contributed by Carmel Veronica Watson
I could not remember my mum when my parents left for Britain, but I do have strong memories of my father, George. He had a presence when he entered a room but he was a very gentle man. We can always remember him sitting on the porch in the evening, telling all sorts of stories. Most of the time, we never knew whether these narratives were fictional or real.
As a child, I spent a great deal of my time with my grandmother Margaret in Manchester Jamaica, while my brothers and sisters stayed in Kingston.
Margaret was very petite. She always wore a long black Victorian dress with a white apron. I considered her as being a very caring and hardworking woman. In her old age, she would keep a small allotment that supported tropical vegetables and fruits. In the mornings, I would help her milk the goats.
This house was situated high on a hillside. On a clear day, we could see the whole of St. Elizabeth. This county was so beautiful, the luscious green foliage and brightly coloured houses against the copper red soil. Around her small house, there were so many places to play. There was always a sense that I was free, so much space for a child to explore. My favourite treat when I went to the market was shaved ice with the sweetish juice.
As my grandmother was getting older, she found it difficult to look after me, so my parents sent for us to join them. I was sad that I was leaving my family and close friends. With all my brothers and sisters together to comfort each other, I really felt secure on the flight. The only downside was the food, mashed potatoes, not for me.
On the 21 September 1964 we landed at Heathrow. I could remember my father meeting us at the arrivals. It was so cold, dad wrapped a bright large orange coat around me, and the material was so comforting and warm. I probably wore it until I was ten years old.
The journey to Wolverhampton felt so long. We stopped at a café in Birmingham. I was amazed, so many trees did not have any leaves on the branches. The houses sandwiched together with long thick trails of smoke flowing from the chimneys.
When we arrived at Allen Road next to West Park, the house was full of excited children exploring their new environment. It was so emotional meeting mum for the first time in three years. She was heavily pregnant with Phillip. The following day she went into labour.
Mum worked nights at Burton Road Hospital as an auxiliary nurse, and my father was a foundry man. His clothes would smell of burning.
While mum was sleeping, we would play on the streets. Whitmore Reans was a very safe area, the neighbours whether black, white, Indian or Irish looked after each other. This was a real community. We spent most of our time playing within the Park or around the Conservative club. The members were nice, except Enoch Powell. We recognised him from the newspaper articles and television appearances, he was a nasty character. He constantly shouted at us.
We went to Oxley Primary School, next to Goodyear’s tyre factory in Bushbury. I loved the school. The staff were so friendly, especially Mrs Watson. I felt close to her because we had the same surname. After school, she would wait until my brothers collected me.
The church has been very special to the family. The one that we went to was situated on Nursery Street. It was a small church, which was predominantly black except for one white lady, Sister Alice. Sister Turner who ran the Sunday school gave me a lot of confidence in myself, teaching me poems, and verses to recite to large audiences.
I have always enjoyed looking after my brothers and sisters. At school, my ambition was to be a nurse. When I left Pendeford High School, I signed on to Wulfrun College to become an auxiliary nurse. For twenty years, I have been working on the paediatric intensive care unit ward at New Cross Hospital. The highlight of my career was to treat a sixteen-week-old child. It was such a thrill to have a child so small survive. In 2005, I completed my nursing diploma as a health visitor.
Leaving Gran, Ta, and Bimshire
Contributed by Aishah Bilal
I left my native Barbados at age 8 on October the 16th 1965. My Gran who raised me and four other siblings were very unhappy on that day. Her comments has stayed with me all my life.
"I know you all got to go and meet your mother in England but you all will never be happy. I know". She did have psychic abilities, Bless her. Yes, she was right. We all had the worst childhood in Britain any children could imagine.
Schooling in Highbury Quadrant Junior Mixed School was average compared to Barbados, and my best teachers all left at the end of the year. Then, after moving to Croyland Road Infant school, Edmonton (at age 9 years plus) life was still crazy but one teacher showed and interest in my writing (English) and encouraged me to express myself through my stories.
In 1996, after working in various managerial jobs and travelling around USA in the 1980s, I went to University in South West London. In 2001, I graduated with a well earned degree in Education and English.
Today, I spend hours supporting my three children whom I am very proud of. I am waiting to find permanent or part-time employment, in order to fund a MA in Education and Early Childhood studies.
I don't regret coming to England in the least. I have not yet been back to Barbados either. As a mother of three, I am always hard up for cash due to children's needs and bills. But I am very happy. My eldest sister went back to Barbados in the 1980s and is also very happy. The other siblings and my younger sister who we met here in England (1965), go to and from Barbados frequently. I still have that journey to make.
Migration to Huddersfield from St Lucia
Contributed by James Alcide
My name is James Alcide. I was born in St Lucia, West Indies, in Dennery.
I lived in St Lucia until I was 19 years old. I came over to England on my own for economic reasons.
I knew about the history of England, and we all thought England was the mother country- where everything is rosy. That was until I got here and found the cold weather, and how it was difficult.
I missed the sunshine. I mean, to start with your fingers would burn, your toes and your eyes. Everything seemed cold.
I arrived here in April 1956. Luckily, when I reached Victoria Station in London a Trinidadian chap was on the platform. We got talking and he asked where I came from. I told him, and he said ‘by the way I know a St Lucian who I am renting to. I’m in charge of the renting.’ So when I asked him who the man was, it happened to be a cousin of mine.
So I was lucky on that score. He took me there and I stayed with that chap in London.
I worked in Lyons Corner House restaurant in Piccadilly. Work was plentiful at that time. I washed dishes. When the dishes came from the restaurant from the kitchen on a conveyor belt, we stacked them in trays and they went through a steam chamber. It wasn’t a highly paid job; it was probably the same amount I would have earned if I was in St Lucia anyway.
In London we found places where it said, ‘No Blacks, No Dogs Allowed’. When I say that to my wife, she thinks I’m making it up but it’s true. Some employers, or people who were responsible for employing people, were very clever about it. We made friends with the Irish a lot quicker than we did with the English. The Irish sympathised; we, as people, had gone through the same thing. The Jews told us the same story; they went through the same problems before they were accepted. So you will soon be forgotten. We accept that as the process of integration.
I was in London for 11 months before I came over to Yorkshire in 1957 with my brother. I first lived up Lockwood in a rented house.
When I first arrived in Huddersfield I did not think I would be here for this length of time. I found the place was dull, I could hardly see daylight because of all the smoke. There were still gas lights about the place.
James Alcide with other founders of the Credit Union of Antilles House Huddersfield
The neighbours were very nice, a lot nicer than down south. As they say the bigger the city, the thinker the jungle. I think that’s the reason I wouldn’t go back to London, the atmosphere. Financially, I think someone can grow a lot faster down south, but with regards to a friendly atmosphere it’s prevalent in the North. Here somebody will turn around and say ‘hello, how are you doing’, ask questions about where you come from and so forth, and develop a conversation. I’ve only been in Huddersfield, apart from day trips around in Lancashire, so I only know the Huddersfield community.
I can remember one incident. I went to Hopkinsons, and the chap told me point blank, ‘we don’t employ Black people in this department’. You wouldn’t have been able to do that in the 80s or 90s or else you would have been in trouble, but you see that’s the whole thing. He could get away with it, so he said it.
Eventually my lad he served his apprenticeship at Hopkinsons.
I got married in Thornton Lodge and then after the first child (we lost the first one; the second one became the first) we moved down to where I’m living now which is York Avenue. I’ve been there for about 36 years now.
My mother was in favour of me coming to the UK instead of stopping in St Lucia.
I suppose even though she might have felt a little bit unhappy I wouldn’t say extremely. My brother and I have been together since that time, him living in Birkby, I’m in Fartown. So we’ve been in communication, just like home, so there is no problem.
Migration from Kingston, Jamaica
Contributed by Brenda May Gordon
I’m Jamaican, from the West Indies. I grew up in Kingston. My dad was a guard on the trains then from schooldays he worked as a fireman.
In 1914 when the war had started they recruited men from the West Indies to help including my dad. Some were sent to Cyprus or Israel.
The English Government recruited from the West Indies and then the Jamaicans sorted it out, decided who would be suitable; people that were hard working and wouldn’t flinch when they were posted anywhere.
Fortunately my mother worked. She worked at home, she could do machine embroidery and sew and she had to rear ducks and geese to help to get money to support us.
Because there was a lot of Chinese in Jamaica they needed meat, especially young ducks of only a year or 9 months old. My dad got a job on his return from the war but what went with it was a place in the country in St Catherine. It was 5 miles away from where they were given land to build a house and live.
Passage to the UK
I came to the UK in my early twenties, when I was about 22.
I didn’t know anyone in the UK only my husband-to-be. He came about two years before.
When I met him I was introduced by a friend of mine. The first thing he said to my friend was, yes he would date me willingly as long as I didn’t have anybody that would come after him with a stick. I said, ‘Oh no, no fear of that.’
He had half of his passage booked even before I knew him. When he had saved enough for the rest of it he didn’t have a suit, so he saved enough money to buy the material and then to give it to a tailor to make a suit.
He wanted to be smart on his arrival in the UK.
His journey was about five or six weeks.
Presumably they had to go around other West Indian islands to collect others coming to England. It wasn’t just a straight voyage.
I was anxious before my journey but it was different to Winston’s it was quite pleasant. Winston paid the airfare so I didn’t have to go on a boat.
It might have been 1959 or 1958. We had to take a small plane from Kingston to Montego Bay.
I can’t remember the route; we stopped in America first to refuel but refuelled again in Canada, maybe Nova Scotia. We weren’t allowed out of the airport. They fed us and gave us time to relax and then we re-boarded the same plane which had been cleaned. That was in New Foundland at about midnight. It was luxurious as far as I recall; you could stretch your legs out and sleep .We were given blankets before we got to New Foundland, because they said coming from the West Indies we would feel very cold and they knew it wouldn’t look good if we got sick through their neglect. A lot of people set off from Jamaica but didn’t reach England because they were offered jobs that looked so good they couldn’t refuse.
We had stopped somewhere for refreshments and some nurses tried to impress us with stories of their work and asked us if we wanted to try it out. I declined.
I travelled up to Huddersfield by train from Kings Cross and the train was packed. I realised one of my suitcases had disappeared and it had everything in it. But someone from the department was going over to the place where they kept luggage to investigate something else, so I was escorted to retrieve my luggage. I found out that the suitcase was only going to be released to me if I paid a fee because my Mum had secretly put a bottle of strong proof rum in the bag for Winston which I didn’t know about. They had to charge me for bringing it in. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the money - I had saved florences and half crowns - but I was embarrassed in case I counted out the money wrong, so I said, ‘No, I’m afraid I will have to do without it,’ and left the rum behind.
When I was eventually on another train I was looking out of the window amazed at the long summer evening, it was eight or nine o’clock and children were playing and the sun was still out. I couldn’t believe it and then it dawned on me about geography. The teacher had told us that there was the land of the midnight sun where the sun shines almost till the next morning.
Arrival in Huddersfield
It was dusk when I arrived in Huddersfield. I first noticed St George’s Square. It was old, smoky with smoke blackened buildings. As I got off the train and looked around there was Winston waiting I hadn’t seen him for two and a half years. He looked exactly the same. We got a taxi to where he was living off Bradford Road, with some Ukrainian people who had rented a room. I went to stay in the room he rented. I was there until my son was born, April 1960. It was a large front room in one of those big houses.
I got a job in about two weeks at a geriatric hospital at Dean’s House. I didn’t have to show references or qualifications she just asked me a few questions.
We had to save up to get married in a school church just off St John’s Road.
Well strange enough, I only went back to Jamaica when my dad died and they sent me a telegram. It’s awful that I didn’t go back to see him when he was alive to tell him about my progress. We wouldn’t go back to Jamaica to live for we’d have to live in Kingston with the children and I don’t know if Winston had any idea how to cultivate the land because it is a hard life to cultivate. He’d have to burn the wood from the land to make into charcoal for cooking. I had five children: Pauline, Paul, Carl (but he didn’t make it as he had jaundice as a new born) then two girls, Cynthia and Beverley
The Paraffin Heater
Contributed by Ruby Watson
I was born in the parish of St Elizabeth, Jamaica, within a large poor family of 12 brothers and sisters. My great grandmother was Scottish, and my great grandfather was a slave.
My eldest sister lived with my grandmother; therefore as the eldest within the household I had to undertake all the chores. This involved cooking, cleaning, and looking after the younger siblings, before I went to school.
Although I took the exams at the end of my primary education, I left school when I was 10 years old to help my family. Most of my education came from studying the bible, I would read the verses one by one by the light of a candle to my parents.
I married George Watson on the 31st March 1954. He was a stonemason and carpenter. Within this district there was very little money and very few people were able to pay him, so he would cultivate vegetables to subsidise our income. Sometimes, I felt we were still living under the oppression of slavery. We were still eating what the plantation masters fed to their slaves, beef fat or salt fish. I would grater cassava to make the bammie, or grater the corn to make dumplings.
When England invited people from the Caribbean to work, my husband who worked for ex-soldiers from Germany told us that the local people would not welcome us. As the economy got worse, we had no choice but to take the employment opportunity. We thought it was going to be for a short time, so my husband and I decided to leave our children in Jamaica.
When we arrived in Wolverhampton, we initially stayed at 12 Waterloo Road for £2 and 10 shillings. We lived in one bedroom; there were so many people in that house. There was no table in the living room, we had to prepare our food in the kitchen and eat in the bedroom. We washed our clothes and dried them around a single paraffin heater.
My first job was for Godfrey on the Bilston Road, and then I transferred to Willenhall lock factory. We would start work at 8 o'clock and finish at 5.30. These factories had no heating, we were constantly cold, and it was a terrible job. For those hours I earned £5 and 5 shillings a week. George worked a double shift in the foundry. He would leave home in the mornings and not return until midnight. We really missed our home, our four children, and we were concerned that our elderly relatives were finding it difficult to care for them.
We had to make a decision whether to return to Jamaica. A very close friend gave us this advice. “If you returned, you would not be able to feed or send your children to school to have a good education. Take your savings, buy a house and send for your children.”
We bought a house, 46 Allen Road, Whitmore Reans. On the 21st December 1964 we sent for our children. When they arrived I was heavily pregnant at the time, and I should have gone to the maternity unit at The Royal. I was so happy to see them, they were so small, especially Carol.
To help pay the mortgage, I started working nights at Burton Road Hospital in Dudley. The qualified white nurses were nasty to the black auxiliary workers. They constantly barked orders. A community amongst the black workers developed within this hostile environment. I remember on my first day, I was told to clean and dress a dead body. I had never seen a dead person before. I cried for a long time, I wanted to leave this job, but I had children and a mortgage. I came to my senses and prepared the body and never looked back. We had to work on three wards at the same time. On each ward we had to make at least 28 beds. The patients were treated with respect by the Jamaican staff. I really enjoyed looking after the elderly.
On one particular day, after I had finished the nightshift, I had just taken Margaret to school. I fell asleep, knowing that I had to collect her from school for 12 o'clock. As I turned in bed, I saw flames from the paraffin lamp hitting the ceiling. I managed to pull the cord window and grabbed the bottom of the paraffin lamp. I threw the lamp out of the window onto the street.
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Immigration accounts from Moving Here
From Poland to London
Contributed by Magda
My mum Izabella came to London in 1998 to get a job. when she came back to Poland in 1999 she decided that me and my dad should come to London with her, so after 2 weeks we went all together.
When I arrived in Victoria station I was confused, I was confused because there were no people from Asia, Somalia and America.
In November 2000 I started school. Ever since I started school I left only once but I came back because the people in school were much more friendly than children in Featherstone. London is such a friendly, lovely place.
Lucky First Day
Contributed by Boguslaw
I was born in a small town, Ketrzyn, which is located in the north-east of Poland on 3rd September 1978. However, I was brought up near that town in a small village. I grew up with my elder sister until I was 19. Then she married and she left the house. After that I started to study economics at The Academy Of Siedlce. When I finished university I started to work as a security guard. It wasn't the job which I want to do, but I couldn't find a better one and eventually I decided to come to England.
On 21st October 2005 I left Poland and arrived by aeroplane in London. At the airport my cousin was waiting for me. It was late, about 8pm, and we arrived at her house at about tenish. I was so tired and went to bed straightaway. Next day which was my first day in England, we started looking for a room for me. On that day I saw around ten rooms. One of them was very good for me. When I and my cousin went to look at room, there was some guy from my country. He looked somebody for this room, because he left his job and want to go back to Poland. When we started to chat I told him, that I was looking for a room and some job. He told me if I took his room, he would give me his job, so I did it. I took the room and I started to work as a kitchen porter in a small 4* hotel. It was my first and very lucky day in England. I find a room and a job at the same time.
That day was two years ago. Now I still working in the same hotel, but now as a chef. I really enjoy my job. I like people, country and city which I get to now. I think I spend rest of my life here, in that city. In a future I'd like to change my job when my English will be better. I'd like to working as my education. Who knows, maybe I'll have once again lucky day in my life.
Contributed by Pauline Jones
My connection to the Polish group started when I started seeing my sister more regularly. My sister’s husband is Polish. His name is Felix Rzepecki. It took me a while to pronounce it as well! They started asking me to go to the Polish dances. This was when I was about 21. I carried on going after I got married. My husband didn’t ever go with me to the Polish dancing, he didn’t like the idea of me going. He had nothing whatsoever against the Polish people. He was a drinker, a Jekyll and Hyde character I'm afraid to say. I loved it up here, especially the dancing. I put the good feeling at the dances down to the community spirit of the Polish people. All different nationalities were at the dances but to me they were all Polish.
My sister met Felix at a dance. I was told that Felix was living in a hostel. I think he came to England after he escaped during the war. He came to live in a hostel near to the Smallthorne road. One thing led to another and they got married in the late '50s. I didn’t know much about Felix and he didn’t know much about me. I first met him properly when they started inviting me to the dances in Longton - they lived at The Villas in Stoke at the time. These took place near to the A50 roundabout. The dances are still held there. They don’t go dancing anymore due to ill health. We have been going to the dances for most of this time since the 1960s. I used to love doing the tango with Felix. I actually got to know Felix after I got married. Felix worked down the mine in Wolstanton. Felix is 88 now and he still reminisces about when he was a boy in Poland.
My sister and Felix went to live in Cotswold Avenue in Knutton. They had a child, Renarta, around the mid '60s. They have been married for 51 years now. They then moved to Wolstanton. They have been there ever since. They go back to visit Poland occasionally, but not where he came from. He was frightened in case someone recognised him from the war because he was one who escaped. As far as he knows he has no relations in Poland. I don’t think he got the chance to go back and see his mother. He talked about his mother a lot, how she cooked and how she prepared stuff for harvest. They lived on a farm. They used to buy a pig to rear for Christmas, then they would slaughter it for the meat and buy another to rear. He loves to cook. He is a fantastic cook. He makes fantastic Kotlety – a Polish dish! It is mince meat, onions, mushroom, tomatoes, garlic, herbs, bacon bits, egg – it is made by rolling the mixture and coating it in breadcrumbs and then frying it. It is beautiful. He knows I love that. He is a dab hand at everything. He is my sister’s carer these days.
As the years went by I saw more of my sister, especially over the last 12 years. We are very close now. We started going abroad a lot. I went on my first ever holiday abroad after my husband died. I see my sister twice a week now and I attend the Polish group once a week.
A Polish musician in England
Contributed by Kornelia Danek
I started piano lessons when I was five years old. I finished primary school, high school and then university with a degree in the Masters of Arts. The problem was that I couldn’t find a job in Poland between 1999- 2004, the problem was because I was a classical musician and these types of concerts in Poland were not very popular, maybe once a month which is not enough to make a living out of. In Poland I was a choir conductress for eight years, in the choir there were 75 people, this choir played traditional music and folklorist music. We had lots of concerts in Poland, Czech republic, Germany and Austria. But that was mainly for volunteers because I love that type of work.
When I came to Stoke I started working in the Dudson factory in Tunstall. I was sponging the plates, but to be honest I didn’t like it, it was too heavy for me, my hands hurt and my wrists ached which is not good for a pianist. The biggest problem for me here was the language; I had never learnt English before in Poland. Then I decided to start English lessons in college and up to now my English is better but it is still very poor to be able to find a job as a piano teacher. Sometimes I play here in the Polish day care centre for these people, like at a Christmas party. On Sunday I play the organ in a Polish church in Stoke. My dream is that I really should stay here and when my English is better start work as a music or piano teacher.
I prepared six songs for the Moving Here activity at the Polish day care centre, one song was about the beautiful summer weather in Poland, the last one was about when people get married; tradition says 'thank you' to parents and this song is usually sung at weddings for the parents of the bride and groom. Two songs were about the war, the people here know this song well and sang it along with me. That song was sung by soldiers during the war.
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