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Stories of migration, displacement and new beginnings

Design & Layout: Natalie Chabaud, Rebecca Abrahams, Kev Ryan. Print Liaison ‘Ask Sue Witts’. Editorial Group: Rebecca Abrahams, Kev Ryan, Kajal Patel, Jacqui Booth, Fang Ma, Rajvia Kaur, James Chantry. Photography: Kajal Patel, Jacqui Booth, Keral Mithabhai, James Chantry, Imaan Hakeem, Ambrose Musiyiwa, Kev Ryan. First Published: March 2014 by Charnwood Arts. Charnwood Arts is a private company, limited by guarantee. Registered in England and Wales. Company No. 07477378 Charnwood Arts is a Registered Charity, Registration No. 1143163. Registered Office: 27 Granby Street, Loughborough, Leics LE11 3DU Copyright: Charnwood Arts © March 2014 and with authors of individual works.

CHANGING SPACES T R A D I N G PLACES – Stories of migration, displacement and new beginnings –

A Charnwood Arts Project - supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund

The ‘Changing Spaces, Trading Places’ project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund to

explore stories of migration and displacement amongst people of South Asian origins who came to the UK in the 1970s. These migrants came to Leicester and Leicestershire largely from East Africa and India. They predominantly found work in the hosiery and textile trade, even though this often wasn’t their chosen profession. In this bustling environment they built their families, friendships, homes, businesses and communities. This book shares some of the domestic, community, cultural and work life experiences of those people.

The project has been brought to life by the Heritage Lottery initiative ‘All Our Stories’ which encouraged

people to explore, share and get involved in their local heritage. As part of this project we have worked with the local communities, student volunteers and Asian elders to record stories of migration to the UK. Those stories make up a series of photo-stories, numerous oral histories, this publication, an exhibition, a website, a resource for schools and a permanent archive of the material we have collected. This work will act as a permanent record of an interesting and unique period in time when the landscape of Leicester was reshaped and transformed by mass migration.

Charnwood Arts is an independent arts and media organisation based in Loughborough in the East

Midlands. Our work encompasses most art forms, from visual arts, film and media projects, performances, outdoor events and publications, to school and community residencies, exhibitions and ongoing groups. Our core work runs deeper than this and encompasses many roles which stimulate and support local cultural development, working in partnership with arts organisations, youth and community groups, schools and organisations. Charnwood Arts is dedicated to providing access to the arts for and with a diverse range of groups and individuals and actively seeks to connect different cultures and communities through creativity, cultural and heritage related projects.

Kajal Patel (Documentary Photographer) Kev Ryan FRSA (Charnwood Arts) Leicester is a city built upon multicultural roots. From the settlement of the area by the Belgic, Corieltauvi tribe, to the Roman conquest and the establishment of Ratae Corieltavorum, to the development of the Danelagh and Norman rule. Migration to the city continued over the centuries but in modern times, be it through the opportunities created by the 1948 British Nationality Act or later economic and forced migration, Leicester has developed as the first UK city to develop a majority nonindigenous population. A highly significant path of migration, and one on which this booklet mainly focuses, is that of the largely Hindu population to the northern areas of the city, often communities of Gujarati ancestry who came as refugees from the East African expulsions of the 1970s. Constituting an important business class in East Africa those who came 6

as refugees brought with them an ability to work hard and form coherent sub-groups within the city. It was not long before their enterprise and entrepreneurial skills transformed their presence into the vibrant and energetic benefits that they now bring to the city as a whole. It was never an easy path, major shifts in international trade and production both created and sang the death knell to successful industries. People struggled with issues of identity, rejection, cultural isolation and both resistance to and acceptance of assimilation. Their settlement here and subsequent lives in Leicester are a complex story, as with all the many other groups now living in the city. As residents of Leicester and Leicestershire it is a story that in so many ways belongs to all of us, because, as a city and a county it is part of what makes us who we are today.

For more than two centuries the British Empire covered a significant proportion of the globe. As time progressed Britain’s burgeoning industry offered economic prosperity and personal freedom to people beyond Britain’s shores. The promise of economic stability became the impetus for thousands to leave their homelands. As an artist, I have been looking at the evolving cultural landscape of Leicester, into which I was born. My parents were economic migrants. Lack of education forced them to work in hosiery factories when I was growing up – this resulted in much of my own childhood being spent in factories after school and during school holidays, since my parents could not afford to pay a child-minder. Little did I know, that these dull days would ignite a curiosity in my adult years. This project has presented me with an opportunity to connect young people with important stories, relating to their heritage. In its turn the project has allowed me to share my skills in photography and other media, as well as gaining new insights of my own.

Historical Background Migration to Leicester was not a new phenomenon. Colonial ties with both India and East Africa had seen a steady influx of migrants into the UK since the early 1950s. Those migrants were predominantly from the Gujarat region of India prior to immigration restrictions in 1968. The mass expulsions of Asians from East Africa in the 1970s were also predominantly of Gujarati descent. This short publication primarily focuses on these Gujarati migrants and the impact that they had on Leicester and Leicestershire. Family, work and opportunity drew people to Leicester and Leicestershire where jobs were plentiful in the booming textile and hosiery trade and housing was relatively cheap. There was a steady flow of people until the early 1970s when migration exploded following the forced expulsion of up to 60,000 Asians from East Africa. Initially there was much resistance to the


number of Asians coming to Leicester, so much so that Leicester City Council took out an advertisement in the ‘Ugandan Argus’ on 15th September 1972 urging people not to come to the city. They claimed that there was not enough housing, school places or health facilities for any more migrants. Even so, with little choice they came anyway. As time has shown, rather than being a burden to local communities and authorities, they have made major contributions to the local economy. They have provided employment, taken over vacant factories and

businesses, built up thriving shopping areas, regenerated run down housing and provided a wealth of cultural diversity matched by no other city in the UK. Although it is not clear how many South Asians settled in Leicestershire from the 1950s onwards, it is estimated that between 1968 and 1978, in excess of 20,000 East African Asians settled here, and by 1983 it had risen to over 63,000. (Leicester in the 20th Century, a Leicester City Council publication, edited by David Nash & David Reeder 1993). 7

Domestic Life On arriving in this new country many comparisons were drawn with the places from which the settlers came. This occupied the migrants to Leicester in so many ways, from the impacts of the inclement weather and the range of amenities available, to how settlement could begin in this new and strange land. The streets were not paved with the proverbial gold, and the ‘welcome’ was often mixed, both helpful and unhelpful. Not only was everything so strange and different but somehow the migrants also found themselves in the middle of controversy about their very presence. “They used to think we are taking their jobs, but slowly slowly we got used to each other.” – Jasu Tailor

Within the four walls of the home, often rented accommodation shared with many others, a new life needed to be carved out. There was also the need for something familiar to bring comfort and reassurance. The walls were often adorned with religious posters, photographs of relatives long since passed and brightly coloured or metallic pictures of Krishna and Ganesh. “After 9 months I bought my own house, I didn’t understand why people didn’t buy houses instead of renting when it cost the same. It was surprising to other people that I did this after such a short time, but we did waste money on bad habits.” – Shantilal Gohil. The 1970s brought flared trousers, longer hair on men, tank tops and platform shoes. In family photos, especially amongst the young, these elements of local popular culture can be seen to be creeping in. Yet, in contrast the traditional cultural side remained fast, with traditional weddings and ceremonies with all the requirements being strictly adhered to. Within the home, modern appliances such as food processors, blenders, washing machines,


tumble dryers and fridge freezers were quickly installed to make life easier, but traditional kitchen paraphernalia is still used to this day. Masala dabba for storing daily spices, the tawa for making chapatis and the sev sancha for making gathia (savoury deep fried snacks).

Life was very hard to begin with and any material purchases were saved for with diligence and then treasured because of the sacrifices that went into their acquisition. Even in this modern culture of easily disposable items, settees are carefully covered with polythene, carpets are covered with protectors, opened dry goods are squirrelled away into Tupperware and remote controls are popped into plastic bags.

The advantage to the incoming Asian community was that they predominantly settled in a very close geographical area, often close to family, relatives or other caste members. The Hindu caste system proved to be an effective way of forming a sense of home and belonging. Very quickly community groups formed based on the caste system which supported each other. 9

This was particularly true of the Gujarati Mochi (shoemakers) community and the Lohana community (traders and merchants). Integral to the sense of belonging and home being established was the emergence, over the years, of restaurants, grocery shops, cinemas, saree shops, gift shops, jewellers, radio stations, places of worship and sports clubs.


The community soon grew and became well established with its central commercial business and retail centre in the area now called ‘The Golden Mile’ on Leicester’s Belgrave and Melton Roads. This has been described as ‘the closest that Britain comes to an Indian Bazaar’.


Festivals and Celebrations Celebrations and Festivals have proved an integral part of bringing the South Asian communities together as well as in latter years playing their part in bringing Leicester together as a city. From being small local celebrations for weddings, funerals, religious festivals and cultural celebrations, some of the festivals are now internationally recognised. As with any community there was a need to celebrate weddings and joyous family occasions. Originally these took place in established centres such as people’s homes, church halls or community centres. Over the years as the communities have grown and prospered, they have invested in their own community centres and places of worship. Now wedding parties may even invite thousands of guests, as there are redeveloped properties that can cater for this and which now belong to the community. Various festivals are celebrated in Leicester including Diwali (the Festival of Lights), Vaisakhi (celebrating the establishment of the Khalsa and the Sikh New Year), Navratri (a 9 day Festival of dance symbolising the triumph of good over evil) and Holi (Festival of Colour marking the season of spring as a time of birth, renewal and hope). The Leicester Belgrave Mela has become a major cultural event for the city.

Diwali The Diwali celebrations that take place in Leicester every autumn are the largest Diwali celebrations outside of India. Belgrave Road is closed to traffic and tens of thousands of people descend upon the ‘Golden Mile’ to join in with the dance and music in the streets. All of the shops are open and are packed with people buying clothes, jewellery and gifts for their loved ones. The event is marked with a switching on of the lights along the Golden Mile, followed by a firework display on Cossington Park, as the New Year is welcomed in by Hindus, Sikhs and

Jains. The evening’s entertainment also includes performances by modern and classical Indian dance groups and Bollywood performers. This event has been supported and sponsored by local partners since 1991. But of course Diwali celebrations didn’t begin like this, in the beginning it was a tentative sweet treat given across the garden wall to your neighbour, then the frantic buying of gifts at the newly appearing sari shops, gift emporiums and food outlets. The first sari shop on Belgrave Road was ‘Sari Mandir’ in 1963, and the first sweet shop was ‘Milans Sweets’ in 1969 and the now

famous ‘Bobby’s Restaurant’ selling traditional vegetarian food was established in 1976. As more of the communities began to celebrate or take an interest in Diwali, activities were encouraged in schools, with the painting of Rangoli designs (doorstep painting), the making of divas (signifying the Festival of Lights) and other activities for children. The Diwali celebrations bring together people from all cultures in Leicester in a spirit of friendship and understanding through the explosion of colour and excitement of the festival.


Navratri Navratri is celebrated every year in the autumn; it is well supported locally with people from all communities joining in with the festivities. Over the years it has grown in size and now takes place at De Montfort Hall and other large venues to accommodate the enthusiastic crowds! Navratri is a Hindu festival symbolising the triumph of good over evil and consists of nine nights of music and dance. Participants take part in Garba (circular group dance) and Dandiya Raas (dancing with sticks).


Belgrave Mela The now internationally known Belgrave Mela started its life as a small fete called ‘Belgrave Carnival’ based in Cossington Park, back in 1982. It was the first event of its kind in the UK at this time. It was a free community event brought together by the Belgrave Neighbourhood Centre and Leicester City Council, originally it attracted hundreds of local Asian people from around the Belgrave area, but now it attracts tens of thousands of people locally and from around the world and is internationally recognised,

attracting many famous Indian music icons. For the first few years it consisted of a carnival type celebration with floats and a procession, stalls, children’s activities and food, and then in 1986 it was renamed the ‘Belgrave Mela’ and continued to grew in popularity attracting more and more people. By 1999 it had been renamed again as ‘Leicester Belgrave Mela’ and then with its increasing popularity moved location just a mile away to Abbey Park and became a two-day weekend event attracting in

excess of 120,000 people. In 2005 it was moved again into the City Centre where it now attracts global attention and serves as a wonderful example of community cohesion and a diverse showcase of this multicultural city. It has also been the catalyst for many other major cities to undertake their own Melas. The Mela is a wonderfully colourful eclectic mix of dance, music, performance and food.


Women take a lead in the Community As the communities grew, the need for spaces for dance classes, language classes, parties, community groups and clubs, mother & baby groups, sporting activities and religious services also grew. One of the first to appear in the Belgrave area was the ‘Belgrave Baheno’. The following article has been reproduced with kind permission of ‘The Colour of Health’ magazine. (Jan 28th 2009) (edited)


‘From Belgrave Baheno to The Peepul Centre’ ‘The story of Belgrave Baheno Women’s Organisation is an extraordinary one. It started with a small group of young Asian women with a £100 grant in 1979 and a dream of transforming society and bringing social justice to the world. From those humble beginnings, twenty-six years later, in 2005 they had built a movement, raised over £20 million, and opened The Peepul Centre - one of the most exciting social enterprises in the country. We first started as The Belgrave Girls Youth Movement where activities took place at the Belgrave Neighbourhood Centre once a week, but we soon found that we needed a more permanent base. Older women were also expressing an interest in joining the group too. Following consultation with local partners, we successfully secured funding for a four-year period from April 1982.

On 24 July 1983 Belgrave Baheno Women’s Centre was opened. Based in a terraced house at 14 Melrose Street the Women’s Centre consisted of a dance studio, a sauna, two small kitchens, a library, two lounges, and an office. The idea of the women’s Centre was to provide time and space for women and develop self empowerment through sharing and learning from each other’s experiences. The Centre’s programme provided recreational, educational, sport and health activities. As more and more women joined the organisation, the activities ranged from arts and crafts workshops to language classes, accredited computer and bookkeeping classes to car maintenance and minibus driving courses. In the early 1990s we started to do feasibility studies with a view to building our own purpose built Centre. By 2005 the dream had become a reality, we had raised over £20 million and the doors were now open to the communities.

The Peepul Centre is a 60,000 sq. ft. building. It has 3 gyms, a health and holistic therapies wing, a theatre, dance studio, an arts and crafts room and a recording studio, a restaurant, coffee shop and two bars, a children’s development centre with a 90 place nursery, an IT lab and a series of meeting and training rooms. 17

Places of Worship There is always a need within communities for people to have a place to worship, hold religious ceremonies and to use as a community hub. As with the community buildings, all of the places of worship have come from humble beginnings such as somebody’s living room. The Jain Centre on Oxford Street in Leicester had its humble beginnings in 1969 in a devotee’s home. By 1979 a spacious former church


building was purchased and the following few years were spent applying for grants and raising money for the building. The Temple was finally completed in 1988 with a magnificent carved marble frontage and intricate stone carvings on the interior. The Jain Centre also houses a museum. The centre runs religious, social sport and educational classes for children and young people, as well as a social and cultural programme for adults.

Places of worship for the Sikh communities, the Muslim communities and other faith communities have all grown significantly over the last few years with development and investment from their members. It has also served a purpose within the city of bringing disused buildings back into use, which in turn breathes life back into the community.

There are many stories. In 1965, Brahmaswarup Yogiji (a priest) instructed Dahyabhai Patel to begin weekly prayer sessions. Dahyabhai wrote to the Yogiji saying “I am the only devotee here and there is no one else. In fact it is so cold and not a conducive environment to hold regular prayers at all.” The Yogiji replied “Hold weekly prayers by yourself,

even if no one else attends. In the future, one devotee will become 100 devotees.” With three or four families the prayer sessions began at different homes. Numbers began to swell and over the years, gatherings were held in Granby Halls, De Montfort Hall, schools and community centres. Eventually, in 2009 a piece of land was acquired on Catherine Street and

the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir began to take shape. Craftsmen came from India and the local communities volunteered, held fund raising events, helped with the building and looked after the construction workers for two years whilst the Mandir was being built. In 2011, this magnificent building was opened to the public, with beautiful stone carvings, ornate wooden carved windows and marble floors. The Mandir also houses classrooms, a dining room, and a sports hall.



Sports Clubs and Community Associations Along with other leisure activities, sport has always played an important role in developing a sense of belonging for different communities. Sports are played the world over, some being familiar to all, others being unique to a particular culture. Within the hosiery and textile factories, sports clubs were common. Corah is well documented for its sports and social club with an array of activities from football, cricket, angling, golf and bowling. They had a four-acre sports ground with a lively social club where all employees were encouraged to take advantage of the facilities. That said, the relatively new workers from the Asian communities did not join the sports and social activities or teams. It would appear that

it was considered to be the preserve of the white employees, with little integration being seen. Instead the communities formed their own sports clubs and leagues through the ‘caste system’. The Shree Prajapati Association was founded in 1975 which organised games, matches and tournaments in various sports including badminton, squash, table tennis, chess, darts, football, netball, cricket and carom. A particularly notable example of this is the *Gujarati Arya Association. 13 community members formed it in 1973 and elections took place to elect a management committee. The first meetings took place at members’ houses, but then as the membership grew, the Aryans Sports and Social Club was formed in 1976. In the beginning they only took part in cricket matches within the Mahasabha League, and won a few matches along the way! A property was purchased by the members to provide a place for meetings and activities, this was then sold in 1991 to purchase a much larger premises on Hildyard Road. The current premises provides space for

religious, cultural and social activities. It now boasts a membership of 900 families with over 3,500 individuals and regularly accommodates weddings, parties and social events. *The Gujarati Arya community are often geographically from the same area in Gujarat India. Historically their principal occupation was shoemaking or ‘Mochi’.


Farming Project One of the problems in moving to a new country is the availability of so many items you are used to purchasing and using. As the communities settled in, shops popped up along Belgrave Road selling kitchenware, saris, dry goods and fresh groceries. Invariably these were really expensive having being shipped in from abroad and often


not that fresh. The local vegetables were not familiar to the Asian families, so a solution needed to be found. Many local residents began growing small amounts of their own vegetables and herbs in their gardens, and quite successfully too! In 1978, following a proposal by the Charnwood Community Relations Council in Loughborough,

the Manpower Services Commission earmarked ÂŁ92,000 to set up a farming experiment. Potentially there were numerous benefits for the project, it would provide employment for up to 30 unemployed people, vegetables grown would provide a healthy diet with essential vitamins and minerals, and it brought back into use four acres of land at Loughborough Technical College that had formerly been allotments. The project lasted for five years and successfully grew 32 varieties of exotic vegetables such as bitter lemon, mung beans, chilli peppers and okra. Unfortunately, the funding was withdrawn by the Manpower Services Commission after only 18 months, but alternative funding and support was found for a further three and a half years.

Paul Gimson the Horticultural Manager from 1981 said “I joined the Asian Vegetable Project in June last year, and was faced with the challenge and potential of growing Asian vegetables in this country. Over the 11 months spent with this project I have come to realise just how much of an original project it is with far reaching

implications. Any new vegetables that can be grown in this country to add variety and flavour to our diet and cooking must be welcome. But when these vegetables also satisfy a social need by supplying fresh and more nutritious vegetables to the Asian community then they are doubly welcome”. One of the original workers on this project, Mr Suri went on to become a significant property developer in Loughborough and the owner of the one remaining town cinema. For the workers on the project, it not only gave them employment, but also a sense of ownership, many of them had been farmers in East Africa and this gave them an opportunity to use the skills that they already had to good purpose. When the vegetables were ready for harvest and available for purchase to local families it gave a huge sense of achievement. The vegetables and herbs were available to buy in local shops and were far cheaper than the imported ones.

Report reproduced with kind permission of the HREC (Human Rights & Equalities Charnwood) taken from ‘The Garden’ Annual Report April 1981 – March 1982 Newspaper cuttings reproduced with the kind permission of the Leicester Mercury.


Television and Radio Settling into a new country and assimilating with a different culture can be very difficult. Consider how many factors there are, the workplace, shops and services such as public transport, schools, local authorities, hospitals and doctors and so much more. Of course mastering the language becomes a vital connecting factor between them all. Whilst the new Asian communities tried so hard outside of the home, inside the home, comfort and familiarity could soon be sought in the emergence of local Asian television and radio. In 1976, Sabras Radio began broadcasting with the local BBC radio station, in response to the growing local Asian population and a need for culturally appropriate programming. Sabras Radio broadcasts programmes in Hindi, English, Gujarati, Bengali and Punjabi. Sabras Radio won its own independent licence in 1994 and the local BBC Asian Network continues to broadcast daily shows including music, discussion, comedy and news. Sabras led the way in Asian radio in the UK with an eclectic mix of old and new Asian music. Now it also undertakes outside broadcasting for the major 24

cultural and religious Asian Festivals such as Diwali, Ramadan and Vaisakhi. Sabras Radio also broadcasts religious Hindu services under the brand Sanskar Radio. Asian television programmes came along later in 1999 with the launch of MATV (Midlands Asian Television). It broadcasts 7 days a week, 24 hours a day a mix of soap operas, film and music and currently broadcasts to 2 million homes. In the 1970s and 1980s Asian households would have been watching the likes of ‘Top of the Pops’, ‘Crossroads’, ‘It’s a Knock Out’, ‘Porridge’, ‘The Goodies’, ‘Two Ronnies’, ‘Benny Hill’, ‘Morecambe and Wise’, ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ and ‘To the Manor Born’ along with the rest of the British population. How much being subjected to these programmes influenced the rise of similar programmes on Asian TV would be open to debate. Or how much ‘apparent’ British popular culture influenced the first generation migrants is also questionable. With the introduction of digital TV and the Internet, programmes can now be watched from all around the world with ease.

Work Life Finding employment was the solution to so many problems. It provided an income to secure housing, it provided stability and it provided the means to prosper. On arrival and often prior to arrival in Leicester and Leicestershire, the migrants had already conferred with friends and relatives about the possibility of employment. Leicester was now a booming hub for the textile and hosiery trade, with busy factories that employed people with no qualifications but were willing to train them. At its height Corah’s employed in excess of 2000 people, the majority women. The women migrants from India and East Africa had often never worked before, but economic necessity dictated that they now needed to.

The major employers were Corah, Byford’s, Frisby and Jarvis, Mansfield, T.W. Kempton’s, Pex, Russell Benjamin, Richard Roberts and Wolsey with over 100 other smaller Hosiery Manufacturers listed in the ‘Kelly’s Director of the City of Leicester 1969.’ Factory life was not particularly easy, the work was often monotonous and boring. There was a certain routine with

hundreds of young girls and women working together, they often walked or caught the bus together, worked together, ate lunch together and then walked home again. At the beginning the work was low paid until you were trained, but then there was the opportunity to earn much more on a variety of more complicated processes.

“When I was in Kenya I used to sit at home all day, but here you have to go to work. In order to survive in this country you have to follow the rules.” – Jayaben Amin. “I have never worked with girls before, I was shy and they used to tease me a lot!” – Shantilal Gohil


Work Life “I was the first Indian lady to work at Curzonia, they asked me to bring four or five of my friends because we work hard. They didn’t speak English so I used to interpret for them.” – Nalini Desai “I was working two jobs together really, looking after my kids and doing piece work at home. I didn’t mind, I worked 7 days a week but I earned good money.” – Harsa Kalyan As the Asian communities became more prosperous they started to invest in factories of their own. In this community environment, work conditions could be easier, with women undertaking outsource work if they had small children at home. It was often the case that small children were allowed into the factories after school, during holidays and if there were child care issues.


“They (factory owner) used to let my daughter come to the factory, she used to play with toys next to my machine. She was three years old.” – Bhanuben Mistry Sometimes though this situation was also open to exploitation with women being at home with small children or dependent relatives they would take any work offered and often worked 60 hours for as little as £10 (Leicester Mercury Feb 16th 1984). Interestingly, ‘By 1990 out of 215 businesses owned by Asian or AfricanCaribbean people, 77 were in the knitting industry’ (Knitting Togetherthe Heritage of the East Midlands Knitting Industry). Although the smaller factories prospered, the larger ones did not. By the early 1980s a decline in manufacturing industries saw much of their trade go to factories abroad, where labour and materials were cheap.

“We used to earn £300 per week doing piece work, in China they will work for £20 a week, they can’t pay us less, because we had mortgages and bills to pay, so we were made redundant and the factories closed down.” – Nalini Desai “My boss was a white man, but he liked the Indian lady workers best because we worked so hard. The white ladies didn’t like us much.” – Sushila Sharma

The Factories Development and Decline Over the next few pages you will see remnants of some of the old factories mixed in with new developments, but also those stalled in time waiting for investment or redevelopment. Whole landscapes have been changed by the clearance of massive factory sites and the building of new social housing, whilst others hang on to the last vestiges of a bygone age, now dilapidated and a mish mash of industrial units.

Pex Building, now the Land Registry. 27

Leicester’s industrial landscape, in the form of factories and warehouses, largely began to take shape from the mid-19th Century onwards. Up until the end of the 20th Century the main industries in Leicester were hosiery, footwear and engineering. It also had a strong printing industry, and was well known for producing other things such as typewriters (Imperial), lenses and webbing. Food production was also important since the arrival of the South Asian communities, and also with the popularity of the potato crisp, there developed a new awareness of a very different potential and role for the city in food production!


Over the last 35-40 years, since the economic downturn of the 1970s, Leicester has seen a significant decline in its traditional forms of industrial production. Foreign competition, buyouts and mergers have all taken their toll. This has significantly changed the pattern of use in the more central areas of the city with new commercial, distribution and production activities moving towards the eastern and south west boundaries of the city.


Following the downturn in the manufacturing industry, in particular the hosiery and textile trade, numerous large factories were left empty and quickly fell into disrepair. Leicester has seen many historic buildings burnt to the ground through arson and vandalism, their beautiful facades lost forever. However, many have been redeveloped over the years and turned over to alternative uses.





A number of the most notable buildings are now student accommodation, such as the Liberty building; its famous Lady of Liberty statue, which once stood on top of the building, now graces a nearby traffic island! Russell Benjamin is now student accommodation, Corah has been divided into industrial units, interestingly, housing some knitwear and hosiery factories using state of the art equipment. Byford’s has been demolished, a storage facility stands in its place, Frisby and Jarvis has been demolished following a fire and is now a temporary car wash. The Wolsey building has been partly demolished, the facade retained and flats built. The Pick Building is now apartments for young professionals and Donisthorpe Mills stands derelict, damaged by fire waiting for redevelopment.



The family firm of Pick Knitwear manufactured ‘knitted outerwear’ in Leicester for 135 years. The Knitwear business was wound up in 1991 before it ground to a halt of its own accord and it closed without debts. The Dover Street factory was sold and converted to residential use in 1999.


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Acknowledgements We would like to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for their support in enabling us to produce this publication as part of the ‘Changing Spaces, Trading Places’ project. I would also like to thank all the people and organisations that have been so helpful in putting this together. Kev Ryan, Natalie Chabaud, Kajal Patel, Hema Acharya, Leylah Bhamra, James Chantry, Terry Allen, Jacqui Booth, Jemma Bagley, Keral Mithabhai, Imaan Hakeem, Binita Thobani, Pooja Bhatta, Namrata Tanna, Shantilal Gohil, Jasu Tailor, Prabhudas Laad, Bhanumati Mistry, Laxmiben Laad, Ambrose Musiyiwa, Rajvia Kaur, Fang Ma, Varsha Parmar, Daphne Beale, Sarojben Chavda, Nalini Desai, Jayaben Amin, Harsha Kalyan, Sushila Sharma, Manuben Maisuria, Jagdeep Ryatt, Sue Witts.

Also The Leicestershire Records Office Leicester University (East Midlands Oral History Archive) Central Lending Library The Colour of Health Magazine Nottingham University

“Thank you all” Rebecca Abrahams Project Manager


Stories of migration, displacement and new beginnings

Profile for Charnwood Arts

Changing Spaces Trading Places  

Stories of migration, displacement and new beginnings in Leicester, UK.

Changing Spaces Trading Places  

Stories of migration, displacement and new beginnings in Leicester, UK.