Untold stories from a closed East End community

PUBLISHED: 09:00 05 April 2014

Trainee historian and curator of nthe exhibition, Majeda BEGUM

Trainee historian and curator of nthe exhibition, Majeda BEGUM

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In recognition of Women’s History Month, a new exhibition exploring the untold stories of ethnic minority women has been unveiled.

Priscilla Doujon, Bethnal Green, 1968Priscilla Doujon, Bethnal Green, 1968

Where I Belong is at the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives in Bancroft Road.

Trainee historian Majeda Begum, 23, of Stepney Way, spoke to the women as part of a traineeship supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Archives. She said her role involved finding gaps in the archives and helping to fill them: “The voices of ethnic minority women was very low. People might find that surprising because this is such a multicultural area.”

She explained that often the women would use community centres to socialise but would otherwise remain at home.

By becoming involved with community activities she was able to painstakingly gather material over the course of a year. Majeda added: “The women were really reserved, but then in these groups they would be talking. They were fun-loving and energetic.

Women at the BYM Women's CentreWomen at the BYM Women's Centre

“These were women who barely spoke English, but were in their element when they were together. You could really feel a sense of community.”

Many of the women were of Bengali or Somali origin and some were refugees of war.

Their stories have been encapsulated in audio format, supplemented by video and written material.

Photographer Sarah Ainslie is displaying her portraits of women, and additional information from the library’s archives is on display.

Majeda said: “I think people will really gain an insight into a closed community with amazing stories. You can see how much they have been through.

“We took the women to the archives to show them that we were celebrating multiculturalism and the idea of all these different identities coming together, and being able to thrive in an area like this.”

Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman said: “This is a fascinating exhibition telling women’s stories in their own words.

“Women from a variety of backgrounds have participated and we are grateful to them and the community groups who have supported the project.

“Women’s History Month is a time for reflection and celebration of women’s contributions to our community.”

The exhibition runs until June 12. Contact the library on 020 7364 1290 or email

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