Parallel Lives

Oldham, a post industrial town near Manchester was named as ‘Britain’s most deprived town’ in 2016. Living parallel to a predominantly British working class population, a large community of Asian and British-Asian Muslim people has developed after their predecessors arrived to work in the cotton mills, which have now all closed. Exploring the concept of ‘Parallel Lives’ - which was developed after the Oldham Riots of 2001; this project tells the story of modern Oldham and the local people who are promoting integration through their daily lives.

The concept of ‘Parallel Lives’ is where two ethnic communities live side by side in a town or place yet partake in little social interaction. In towns like Oldham, in northern England, this has lead to poor integration and high levels of community tensions between the perceived indigenous British population and the Asian communities. Demographically the town’s population is made up of 75% White British and 17% Asian or Asian descendant (2011 Census).

The Asian and British-Asian community, who are predominantly Pakistani and Bangladeshi, emigrated to Oldham in the 60s after a nationwide push to employ people in the cotton mills. They moved and were located into the same areas as their families and friends which over time caused residential districts in Oldham to be only resided in by one of the ethnic groups, meaning integration between the communities has proven difficult. Even today many of the local school’s students are of one ethnic group and many of the older generation still do not speak English. Contemporary events in the muslim world add further mistrust between the communities and race hate incidents spiked after the Brexit referendum of 2016.

Fifteen years after the infamous Oldham riots, the Brexit vote exposed a cultural divide in Britain, but the residents of Oldham have known this divide for decades. Despite these issues, many people of Oldham display constant tolerance and promote integration through the actions they take in their daily lives. The focus of this project, is to document the concept of 'Parallel Lives' through the interactions of the communities brought together by their shared residence of Oldham, whilst celebrating those who are actively breaking down cultural barriers.

Oldham was once the cotton capital of the world and had a strong economy bringing people to work from all over the world. Now however, the mills are all shut down leaving the town with few jobs and a large and divided population.By David Shaw
Deputy Mayor Shadab Qumer attends the 2016 Remembrance Sunday service in Oldham’s town centre. Quemer, an Oldham born Muslim, is the 44th Mayor of Oldham and descends from Kashmiri immigrants who arrived in the 1960s. By David Shaw
Juel Miah Subhan with his friends before Friday prayers in the Westwood area of Oldham, a predominately Asian residential area. 10.2% of Oldham’s population are Asian or British-Asian, according to Oldham Council.By David Shaw
Juel Miah Subhan, who was born in Oldham but whose parents are from Bangladesh is a very active member of the local islamic community. He is also an avid soccer fan and follows the England national team and Manchester United. By David Shaw
Many local Asian people talk of an identity crisis as they feel that they are British, due to being born and living their lives in the UK, however they often still live in culturally closed Pakistani or Bangladeshi communities.By David Shaw
A ‘non-political’ march through the Westwood district of Oldham celebrating the birth of the Prophet Mohammed in which local Asian residents were instructed not to engage with anyone who was not part of the procession.By David Shaw
“Kill All Paky” sprayed on an Oldham wall then scrubbed away. ‘Paki’ is the derogatory word used by the far right to refer to Asians regarding many of their Pakistani heritage.By David Shaw
The Imam of the Jamie Masjid reads Islamic prayers at the mosque in Westwood, Oldham. Many local Asian people attend Mosque and other Muslim cultural events however their lives are still heavily influenced by western culture.By David Shaw
Najma is a single-mother who has battled unemployment during her parenthood. She now uses her experiences to help other local Asian women who struggle with similar social issues regarding their duel identities as British-Muslims.By David Shaw
Najma Khalid giving a cultural identity workshop to local women as part of Chai Ladies. The support network was set up by Najma for predominantly British-Muslim, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women to address both domestic and social issues.By David Shaw
Keith Head with his ex-wife Ruqia whom he married when racial tensions were at their height in Oldham. Their relationship was seen as taboo in local society however this created a very strong bond between the two and they remain friends.By David Shaw
Despite successes at bringing the communities together, tensions in the town still remain with a sense of there being a cultural other. Race hate incidents spiked in the wake of Brexit in Oldham which voted out of the EU.By David Shaw

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