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24 September 2014
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Voices: Our Untold Stories
Nasreen Akhtar with the three books in Our  Untold Stories How It All Began

The ambitious history project on the county’s Chinese, African Caribbean and Asian communities was the brainchild of Nasreen Akhtar, the county’s BME Development Officer.
Nasreen Akhtar with the three books of Our Untold Stories

The dawn of the new millennium provided the spur that resulted in the publication of three books chronicling the challenges faced by Gloucestershire’s first generation settlers from the three ethnic minorities as they adapted to a new life and culture.

Nasreen explains: "People from these communities were coming to the library wanting to find out more about their background and history, and how and why their older generation came to the county.

quote
I felt it was important to teach the second and third generations about their roots and to make them aware of the difficulties faced and sacrifices made by their parents and grandparents. quote
Nasreen Akhtar

"The information we had in the records was very sketchy and I felt it was important to teach the second and third generations about their roots and to make them aware of the difficulties faced and sacrifices made by their parents and grandparents.

"The beginning of a new millennium felt a good time for such a history project, before the experiences of the generations who came here in the 20th century were forgotten forever."

Nasreen’s enthusiasm for the Our Untold Stories project won funding from bodies including the city and county council and the National Lottery.

She was also very grateful for the support and cooperation she received from the senior management of the Gloucestershire Libraries and Information Service, especially Gill Barker, principal librarian, reader services.

LISTEN
audio Nasreen Akhtar and BBC Gloucestershire's Clare Parrack talk to Faye Hatcher on Radio Gloucestershire about Our Untold Stories
 

The three years she devoted to the history project, helped by a small group of researchers from the Chinese, African Caribbean and Asian communities, was rewarded in August 2003 when Our Untold Stories was a winner in the Lottery Monitor’s 2003 Excellence Awards.

Nasreen and friends at university
Nasreen (right) and friends at university in Lahore, Pakistan

Judges praised the project's "positive outcomes, sustainability, innovation, cultural diversity and continued value to the local community."

The stories have also become a valuable educational resource in county schools.

Now for the first time they are published online in their entirety here on the BBC website for Gloucestershire, as a lasting legacy of the BBC's Voices of Gloucester project.

Voices was launched to give a voice to local people whose views and ideas had been previously unheard on the BBC, with the aim of promoting greater mutual understanding and appreciation of the many different cultural and religious elements of the area.

Nasreen herself came to the UK from Pakistan in 1978. A graduate of the University of Punjab in Lahore, she took a post-graduate course at the University of Wales and well remembers the shock of adapting to a new culture.

"England was very different from what I was expecting," she recalls. "The climate, the cost of living, it was all a big change from what I knew back home."

Nasreen is married and has three children who have grown up in the UK and feel as British as they are Pakistani.

Nasreen Akhtar and her sisters
Nasreen (centre) with her sisters before she came to the UK

She says: "They have, in turn, grown up in a very different world from the background I came from – and their view of England is different too, because they have been here all their lives."

The story of her son Babar Vaqas, who studied at Oxford University and is now a doctor, is included in Our Untold Stories, and her daughter Umara Hussain was one of the project’s authors.

Umara says: "A half of me is Pakistani and half of me is English. I have found out that I must take the best from the Pakistani way of life and culture and also of the English. When these fit together, they make me a British Pakistani Muslim."

Our Untold Stories has been a labour of love for Nasreen who laughingly admits that the books themselves "are like having three more children – now I have a Chinese child, an African Caribbean child and another Asian child!"

Nasreen Akhtar and family
Nasreen with her husband and son Babar as a young boy

So now that Our Untold Stories is in book form and online, is that the end of the tale? Nasreen hopes not.

She says: "There are still other stories to be told, from within these three communities and other ethnic groups who have settled the county. It is my dream that their voices will be heard too."

LISTEN
audio Nasreen Akhtar and BBC Gloucestershire's Clare Parrack talk to Faye Hatcher on Radio Gloucestershire about Our Untold Stories
 

If you have moved to Gloucestershire from abroad and want to share your story Nasreen would love to hear from you. Just fill in the online form and your details will be passed to the Our Untold Stories project team.

The three books in Our Untold Stories series are on sale through county libraries, price £4 for the Chinese book and £5 each for the African Caribbean and Asian histories.

This article is user-generated content (ie external contribution) expressing a personal opinion, not the views of BBC Gloucestershire.
Untold Stories banner
» Back to Our Untold Stories index
Chinese Untold Stories link
African-Caribbean Untold Stories link Asian Untold Stories link
 
What is Voices?
Capturing the stories, concerns and aspirations of those unheard voices across the UK.
Find out more here

 


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