Ethnic life in a northern town

9th April 2004 at 01:00
Yorkshire pupils learn from the past of olderAsian immigrants. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

When the first major influx of Indian and Pakistani immigrants arrived in west Yorkshire in the 1950s, they encountered language problems, poor housing and long working hours in the mills to make ends meet.

Now, almost 60 years on, their experiences are being chronicled by local pupils in a project aimed at combatting racism and promoting better understanding between the town's ethnic communities.

Youngsters from two secondary schools in Batley are creating a "heritage library" - a documented history of the textile town gathered from the first-hand experiences of its citizens.

Pupils from Batley high school for boys and Howden Clough girls' have recorded interviews with ethnic-minority groups for a CD-Rom for use in schools and the local community.

The idea emerged last year when the Office for Standards in Education noted in its report on the boys' school that different community groups "co-existed", rather than being fully integrated.

Both schools are comprised roughly of a third each Indian, Pakistani and white pupils.

Graham Wright, Batley boys' head, said: "We wanted to get the pupils talking to each other because there was a tendency for them to stick to their own community groups. We decided that the best way for people to get to know each other was to talk about themselves. The collaboration between our two single-sex schools also meant that boys and girls were able to mix."

Batley, where 73 per cent of residents are white, 16 per cent Indian and 9 per cent Pakistani, was not hit by the race riots that broke out in other northern towns last summer, including nearby Bradford and Oldham. "We don't have those problems but that does not mean that we cannot do more to foster greater understanding and tolerance, particularly in a post-911 world," Mr Wright said.

Last week, boys and girls from the schools interviewed older members of the Muslim community. Some of the questions were compiled by 12-year-old Nosheen Khan, who has interviewed her father about his experiences.

She said: "I didn't realise how difficult it must have been for him to come here and start again, with no money and nowhere to live. He told me how hard he worked and how many pressures there were on him and his family."

Eldon Fairnhill's grandfather came to Batley from India and married a local girl. The 15-year-old said: "This project has enabled me to learn about my own heritage as well as how ethnic communities have contributed towards the life of the town."

Simon Damiani, 15, added: "I used to think that Batley was just a slum town, but now I appreciate it more. It has been interesting finding out how the different ethnic groups have contributed to the way it is now."

Last year, the scheme won the pound;20,000 prize in the Barclays New Futures schools competition. It is now being supported by organisations such as the Rotary Club and local community groups.

Esoof Bham, a former textile worker, told youngsters how he found work in Batley after arriving from Pakistan. He said: "Sometimes young people do not appreciate where they really came from and what the generations before them had to go through so that they could have a better life."

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