Councillor Farook Subedar came to live in Highfields in 1972.
Councillor Farook Subedar
Thursday 29th September 1994.
Councillor, can you please tell me when you first arrived to England?
I came to England on 15th November, 1971.
Where did you stay?
I came to London, and moved down to Leicester on 22nd June, 1972.
And where did you move to in Leicester?
We moved to Highfields,and have been in Highfields ever since.
What were your first impressions of Highfields?
It was quite a pleasant Victorian area. Where we came, most of the houses in Highfields area were quite clean and tidy and we were told by the local resident this was one of the most poshest areas of Leicester some 30 or 40 years ago.
Can you describe the houses you lived in?
It was a Victorian terraced house just right in the centre of Highfields. It was quite a special house. It's got five bedrooms with a cellar and high ceilings and in its original form and shape.
And how many people lived in that house?
There were several family members living in that house.
Have you had most of your education in England?
Yes I have.
No, in London.
Nothing in Leicester?
No, nothing in Leicester.
So how old were you when you arrived in Leicester?
Well, I was 14, but I went back to London with my eldest brother. I had two older brothers and I resided with them and I finished my studies in London, while my family were in Leicester.
Can you tell me, did you have any problems with religion, with funerals or weddings?
Oh yes, yes. We had to overcome lots of hurdles when we came. We had to make a cultural awareness to the local community, to local institutions, to the local councils, even local MPs and politicians were not aware of our culture. We had to tell them our requirements, our needs in schools and funerals, or our religious functions. Take the Eid Festival, we had to explain why our children could not come to school on that particular day. Most of the people were not aware, they thought we were all Asians with one religion. We must all be Hindu or we must all be Moslem. They did not realise the diverse religions and inter-cultural community amongst the Asians.
OK. So can you describe any difficulties you faced, for instance if there was a funeral. How would you have gone about it?
Well, at the early stages we were not aware of the system. So we used to depend on the funeral companies. I remember James & Co. on Biddulph Street. We used to inform him whenever someone died in our community and they used to take charge of all the funeral arrangements and everything. They would go to the city council and get the grave sorted out. Then at the end of the day, they would give one invoice for the whole of the funeral arrangements.
It must have been very expensive as well?
It was very expensive and it still is. The problem for us was to make people aware who didn't think. Why do we need the body to be released as soon as possible? One funeral company was not aware of our culture. When we used to go and explain that a lady of 70-80 had died of natural causes and why couldn't the hospital release the body straight away? The funeral directors would tell us, "Oh, we can't do anything." That is the system in this country. We just have to follow the post-mortem, the autopsy and things like that. For that particular reason, our community used to suffer sometimes you know. A body won't be released for 3-4 days, even if there is a bank holiday and things like that. To most of the family concerned, where immediate members died, they had to suffer, but thank God, nowadays, we have sorted out this kind of problem directly with the authority, indirectly with the city council, and indirectly with the coroner and the hospital.
OK, can you tell me how the weddings took place?
Oh yes, I don't think the wedding culture has changed much. It may have improved with extra razzmatazz, but it's still the same. The Asian wedding is heavy with tradition. There are different kinds of ceremonies which take place before the 'Nikah' takes place. So that is still functioning, in the same normal fashion.
We used to hire church halls mostly on London Road. We used them for our Eid prayers and things like that. There weren't that many halls available. So we made do wherever we could find a small hall, even the school halls were not available at particular times. Only nowadays, you find schools are giving away their halls on weekends. But when we came we had a big struggle.
OK, and what about the Mosque. Can you remember how many there were when you first moved here?
When we first moved there was one Mosque on Berners Street, which is called Masjid-E-Noor and there was another Mosque which is called Sutherland Street Islamic Centre. There were only two Mosques in the whole of the city of Leicester.
When did the others come?
The others just came because the demand was there and there was a big influx of the Moslem Community in Leicester coming from Malawi. They were coming from Zimbabwe, South Africa, East Africa. As the Moslems started coming to England, alot chose to make Leicester their home. Then the need was there because Masjid-E-Noor was a very small Mosque and even Sutherland Street was a one terrace house through Sutherland Street, so I don't think these two Mosques could have taken the influx of the population, then increasing Moslem population in Leicester. So the demand was there at that particular time.
I remember in 1974, Imperial Typewriter Building was in dispute with the Asian workers and the Imperial Typewriter decided to close down the whole factory. Some Moslem businessmen thought they could convert the canteen of Imperial Typewriter into a Mosque. It's one of the largest in Leicester now. Slowly and gradually there were other Mosques built in Keythorpe Street and there was one built on Loughborough Road, and there was one bought on Stoughton Drive South. There's another Mosque on Barclay Street off Narborough Road, and then there's a Mosque on Upper Tichbourne Street. There's a new Mosque on St Stephens Road so roughly there must be twelve in the city of Leicester now.
Now what about the Madressas for the children of the supplementary Schools?
Oh yes. Now we had a struggle. As I said we had two small Mosques to contend with a large number of children to be taught in supplementary schools. So slowly and gradually, we negotiated with local schools to give their premises to be available in the evenings for supplementary schools in the early years. If you come around in Highfields in the evenings you will find most of the schools are allocated for some kind of supplementary school.
Can you tell me about leisure activities, what did you used to do in your spare time?
Well, we used to have lots of sports activities here. I remember Highfields Youth and Cultural Centre (HYCC) was built in 1973 and that was our centre point for most of our recreational activities. Every evening, we used to come and play volley ball, then we used to come and set up our cricket team and things like that, and from there we would go to Victoria Park and Spinney Hill Park and play our football, outdoor games, cricket etc.
Do you remember any of the cinemas that were here?
There was a few cinemas. There was one called Sangam, one on Belgrave Gate, the other one was Evington cinema which is on the corner of East Park Road and Chesterfield Road, now it is an old peoples' home. There is another cinema on Green Lane Road, I'm talking about Asian cinemas. There were lots of English cinemas. I'm just giving you background on the Asian cinemas. Then there was a brand new one built on Belgrave Road called Natraj Cinema, it was purpose built. Nowadays, it's a Sari shop.
What about the Apsara?
Apsara cinema? Sorry I forgot that one. There there were five or six cinemas in the city of Leicester.
Right, I see. Did you used to go and watch the films?
As I said, I was hardly in Leicester. I was in London most of the time.
Right. Do you remember anything of the riots that took place in Highfields?
Yes. When I finished my studies I came down to Leicester in 1979. The riots took place in 1982. In 1981/82 we established Highfields Community Council to resolve the crisis. The establishment and the disenchanted youths. The riot was not political, the riot was there because the local community were not getting their rights. The youths were not getting the facilities which was required for them, so they were getting really upset and disenchanted with the system. This was not just in Leicester, it was all over the country.
I know at the time, the media coined the name 'copycat rioting', but it wasn't copycat rioting. The people were frustrated, the youths were frustrated because there were no jobs once they left school. I'm not going to bring a political angle to it, but the fact of the matter was, when the Tories came into power in 1979, they destroyed most of the heavy industries. Most of the training opportunities went out of the window for the youths. So when the children were out of school they did not have a venue to bring out their frustration. They did not have any opportunity to gain some skills or gain some recreational activities. So what better can they do than to turn against the system? I don't condone them, but at that time we were trying to build bridges. I remember myself, Father Owen Richards and a few other members, who formed a committee liaising between the police and the community. There was a lady called Cynthia, and another called Ruby Grant along with the rest of us who managed to set up the Highfields Community Council. We used to have our meetings in Wesley Hall every last Wednesday of the month, with the Chief Superintendent of Charles Street and the local community leaders. But I remember the riots exactly, most of the effect and damage was done near this library, in actual fact. Near all these shops. Shopping precincts were looted and even the shops in front of the house, the electrical shops were looted so many times.
Okay. So would you have said that Highfields was generally a safe place to live in?
Highfields has always been a very safe place to live in. I'm not saying that there is no crime. There are crimes in every area, but if you ask the Highfields residents the question, "Why don't you want to leave Highfields?" They will reply that the facilities they have in Highfields are such they can't get any in any other area in city of Leicester. So yeah, there are pluses and minuses but overall I think there are more pluses to live in Highfields than minuses.
What about shopping and halal foods?
Yes, when we came there were only three halal butchers. One was in Berners Street, Mr Khan, and there were two others one in Laurel Road and Ismail Food Store in Duffield Street, there was three or four halal butchers. People used to struggle to have halal foods, not just the meat, even the biscuits and other foods. We had to be careful because none of the breads and things like that were halal. There were no ingredients displayed on those items, so we had to be very careful what we ate. We were lucky in in Highfields. There was a Moslem businessman who started some bakeries, like the Leicester Bakery, Sabat Bakery and others. This is how we got most of the halal items and even the groceries and shop keepers now they make sure that they supply mostly the non-animal fat products, they know the local residents only want halal foods.
Okay, when you first moved to Highfields what was the weather like, has it changed a lot from what it is today?
When we came the winter months were very severe. In recent years I haven't found the weather to be so harsh. You are lucky nowadays that the winter is mild. I don't know what the reasons are only the scientists can tell us that, but when we came in 1971, I remember it was a winter month when we arrived and the snow was up to your knees in London. We used to ring our cousins in Blackburn and Leicester and Birmingham and tell them not to visit as the roads were blocked with snow. But nowadays when winter comes you hardly realise there is winter. It's so mild.
What about the local authority, were they helpful when there were crimes committed? Were they quick to respond?
That depended on which kind of crimes you reported. There was lots of racist elements in crime at early stage and the local authority were not aware what racism was. Thank God the local authority have created racial awareness courses for the senior officers to be aware when someone comes and reports and complain about racial motive attacks and crime. Even the police force were not really aware what racism is they just used to put all the crime into one basket and they used to treat them equally, it wasn't fair to the ethnic minority because they used to suffer both ends. On one side it is a crime, on the other side it was a racist crime.
Did they used to have the 'bobby on the beat?'
I think so. At the time, we used to enjoy more police on the street than nowadays and they were local policemen. They were on first name terms with the residents and we could identify local "bobby". Now if you ask anyone who your local policeman is I don't think anyone knows.
What about councillors at that time?
When we came there was hardly any Asian councillors. There were none whatsoever. I remember the first Asian councillor was Mr Shah. He used to have a business on Hartington Road and he became a councillor sometime in 1975. From there on we had more councillors but when we came to Leicester there was not a single Asian councillor in the city of Leicester.
So if you had any problems or wanted advice, where would you go?
Well, most of our people used to turn to the local MP. At the surgeries and they used to go the Mosques, Mandir and the Gudwara and they'd seek advice from the leadership there, and through that leadership, they would convey that complaint to the local MP or local council. But thank God, slowly and gradually people have started establishing local Advice Centres and Community Centres. Nowadays, it's so accessible as you can see, so many Advice Centres.
Can you tell me something about education then?
Well, the education was a problem. Not when we came I'd be honest with you. We used to have a very good education system in the city of Leicester. As I can remember, most of my family members went. Like my youngest brother went to Moat Boys' School which is called Moat Centre now on Melbourne Road. Most of my sisters went to Moat Girls' School and that is now Spinney Hill Primary School. At that particular time we had a very good education system, we were quite happy and content with the system. There was no complaints but somehow in the late 1970s without consulting the local community, without taking into account the needs and the cultural religious needs of this community, the L.E.A. (Leicestershire Education Authority) were so arrogant they did not take anything into account! They just abolished single sex schools in the county of Leicestershire and especially in the city of Leicester, and they knew that the city of Leicester has got a 25 to 30% ethnic minority. Since they have abolished the single sex schools we have a constant problem. For the last 12 to 13 years we had to go and take our families on the Appeal Committee at County Hall.
Were there any bilingual teachers at that time?
There were very few, but I think the establishment and the local education authority realised the need, so then they created a Section II Post and I think most of the inner city schools were appointing bilingual teachers.
What were the people like at that time. Were they a mixture of a certain religion or a certain part of Africa?
In Highfields, we had a very good mixture. Infact we had people from Afro-Caribbean, people from East Africa, people from India and Pakistan. We had people from Bangladesh, all kinds of mixtures and the local inhabitants, the English. So we had a mixture of most of the community. Highfields was unique in this sense. It has a diversity of different cultures, different religious faith and for that reason I think the local teachers in the area picked up a different need and aspiration of the people and students in the school.
And did they all get along fairly well?
Oh yes. We never had any problem. You know since we have been in this city from 1972, there hasn't been any inter-rivalry, within the ethnic minority. On religious ground or cultural ground we always get on well with each other.
How would you celebrate Eid at that time?
We used to go early in the morning. We used to hire a hall on London Road. A church hall, and we would perform our Eid there. Then we would come home and celebrate with our family, mother, sisters, brothers, cousins and then we would go and visit families and friends' houses and that was Eid. Then we realised that we must do more than that. So I myself took an initiative in 1982/1983 to get an Eid Festival on a proper footing. I went to the council, I got a planning application to set up a proper Eid Festival in Spinney Hill Park, with different stalls, food stalls, book stalls, and a sports function. Then I also went and saw the local fun fair chap, Billy Bates. He was quite willing to accept our offer. The first Eid Mela we celebrated with the Lord Mayor and the local MPs, councillors, local dignitaries, scholars from London, they came down and we had our first Eid Mela in the whole year. Leicester was the first city to establish Eid Mela.
And what year was that?
That was in 1983 and it was done under the banner of the Hizbullah. I was the chair of that organisation. On the last day we had a sponsored walk to Victoria Park and we raised money for Cancer Research. There was about 45-50 young children who took part and we raised £500-600. In the next year we did the same thing, we raised funds again for the Society for the Blind. We were raising funds for different charities every year. I've left it to the general public now whether they would like to have a Mela or not, but for five years we celebrated Eid Mela in the proper manner.
And how did the local community react to that?
The majority of the community were quite appreciative. They realised there was a need for young children to celebrate their Eid because it's an event, Eid itself is happiness. A child needs to identify what Eid means to him or her. So when the Mela came, most of the children were blessed with Duas.
They were really looking forward to something like this and they were grateful to those who had organised it, and it was a very good thing that children were appreciative. I remember there was an article in the Leicester Mercury. We had around 40-50,000 people in the first four days. We never had that kind of reaction before, ever. You know people were coming from Birmingham, Manchester, London, Slough. We met people from all over the country for Eid Mela. It was a success! It was just not for Moslems. Everyone came to it. It was open to everyone regardless of colour, creed or race.
Did you face any opposition concerning this from the local Mosques or anything?
Yes, well, you do, and there's always misunderstanding. The local Amaz were right, I'm not saying they were wrong. They had a duty to uphold the Shariah. They told of their dislike of the Mela. But my intention was not for the mixing of the sexes or to commit any kind of sins. My whole hearted intention was for the young children to celebrate Eid in a manner that they should be proud of, when Eid is coming they know that there is something to celebrate. That was my intention. I did explain to Amaz. They have the right to give a statement if they feel anything is wrong. But overall, I don't think it was wrong to establish a Mela. If people were going to misbehave, they can misbehave in the city centre. They can misbehave on the bus while they're travelling, they can misbehave anywhere. So it doesn't mean that people will come to the Mela just to misbehave.
Did you work in Highfields at all?
No, I didn't work in Highfields. I've been a resident. I've worshipped in Highfields. My business was out of Leicester. I used to commute to Nottingham and London. I used to sell software for computers and then I fell ill. I was ill for a long time. I just stayed at home most of the time. I started my own business in machinery, again selling overseas. So I've never worked in Highfields.
Do you know of any local factories in Highfields. Can you tell me anything about them?
Yeah, there were plenty in actual fact. As I say, when Imperial Typewriters closed, most of that building slowly became occupied by mostly Asian entrepreneurs, they established their businesses there. The prominent ones which come to mind are Nyasa Garment, Adam & Co, Screen Objects, Supreme Textiles, they were all there. Everest Hosiery, Everest Garments, they established their businesses in Highfields and it has really brought prosperity to the area. We must commend the hard work and dedication of these Asian businessmen to really make Highfields what it is now. Otherwise if the businesses were not here, Highfields would have suffered severely, because there are no other big industries in this area. Most of the local residents of Highfields managed to get a job within the location.
Can you tell me a bit about transport, how did you get about from one place to another?
At early stage, there were very few cars. What you see now is a nightmare. You know, if someone had asked me back in 1972 to forecast how many cars I would see in the streets of Highfields in 1994, then I would be a very brave man to say 2 or 3 cars per household. I remember there were hardly 5 to 10 cars in the whole street. Now, the residents in our own streets have to go and park their car in different places because there is no space. So what we see nowadays is incredible, not just in Highfields, I think all over the country!
But in 1972 the transport system was very good and it was cheap. It was the most efficient transport system in the country. The fare to the city centre was 2 pence, when we came to Leicester, now it's 50 pence. That's the difference, the inflationary measures weigh out. Nowadays people do not commute so much on local transport. The more cars we have the more damage we are causing to our environment. Lots of children are suffering with all kinds of disease. This is all because of the pollution and it is a hard job to convince everyone that it is good for them to use local public transport. But you can't blame the community. The local transport is so expensive, but when people work out their budget, they realise that the local transport is much, much more expensive than running their own car. That is the reason, but unfortunately it's not a healthy one.
Were there a lot of lady drivers in the early years?
Very few were lady drivers, but the margin I would say was 5%. But now you can say nearly 35 to 40% are lady drivers.
Any in employment?
Asian ladies hardly used to go out to work. Nowadays, they are fighting for their position which is a very healthy sign and I think we should encourage them. They're educated, they go out to the universities, they've been out to different institutions and they are establishing themselves. I'm happy for them.
Do you remember anything about the local library in Garendon Street, as it was then?
Yes, it was a very small library. Unfortunately and it didn't had any booklets, magazines or newspaper for the Ethnic Minority. But when this library was established as the Highfields Library, slowly and gradually we asked for different magazines and different newspapers to be displayed on a daily basis. And thank God that people have appreciated it. You as a librarian can see how many people come here every day. These facilities have been here for some years now. We want to see it improve and get better, so we don't want to isolate any community. We want to see all of the community benefit through our local libraries.
Is there anything else you would like to tell me about Highfields?
I regard Highfields as a very precious village. To me, Highfields has got a lot to give to the community and to society at large. If someone was to study the way we live, or some serious research student wants to research an inner city or diverse cultural community, there can't be at a better place than Highfields village, I can tell you that.
Okay, thank you very much.