About the project

An Oral History Project that tells the stories of people from all over the world who came to settle in Reading.

Photograph of an interview


Reading: a town built on immigration

In the 19th century people moved from the rural areas of southern England to work in factories, brick kilns and mills which sprang up in Reading as part of the industrial revolution. Later on, in common with many large towns and cities in Britain, Reading has also provided refuge for people fleeing religious, political and racial persecution. The town now has established Jewish, Polish, Ukrainian, Spanish and Irish communities.

The 1950s saw the start of large scale immigration from the Caribbean to work mainly in the hospitals, railways and bus depots. This was followed in the 1960s by immigrants from Pakistan and India and in the 1970s from East African Asians. Reading now has the largest Bajan population outside of Barbados anywhere in the world and is also home to communities from other Caribbean islands such as St. Vincent. There is also a large population of Pakistani and Kashmiri origin as well as smaller Sikh and Hindu communities and significant numbers of people from Bangladesh, Nepal, China, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania.

More recently refugees have arrived from many of the world's trouble spots including: Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Algeria, Libya, Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Reading is an extremely diverse multi-ethnic, multi-racial community with a good record of race relations. Many of the people who settled in Reading after World War II are now in their 50s, 60s, and 70s and have fascinating stories to tell. Stories of how they scrimped, saved and struggled to afford the boat or plane tickets to come to Britain. How Britain was perceived from the other side of the world and the reality of what they found when they arrived here. The agony of leaving friends, family and loved ones behind. The uncertainty and risk. Discrimination, hostility and isolation. Struggles with a new language and culture and trying to find homes, jobs and schools for themselves and for their families. There are stories to be told about clandestine trips across borders, deportation in war time, corrupt officials and the fight with the immigration authorities to remain in the UK. There are stories about human endeavour, human achievement – triumphs and disasters. Many who became parents are justifiably proud of their children who have thrived and prospered in their new schools in Britain and graduated as scientists, doctors or engineers.

The project

This rich international tapestry of human experience is a story worth listening to and reading about. However, many of these stories are increasingly being lost, making it vital that these experiences are recorded now. The Immigrants project has collected, stored and disseminated this information, gathered through a process of community research and interviews, and the material collected is held by the Museum of Reading as an archive. Some of that material has been selected, edited and reproduced here and has been published in a book Routes to Reading - Stories of Immigration. The project ran for 12 months from January 2005 and was Co-ordinated by Ann Westgarth

The partnership

Reading Local History Trust set up a steering group to manage this project. The steering group included representatives from key community organisations as well as Reading Borough Council (Arts Service and Museum of Reading). BBC Radio Berkshire ran a linked radio drama project.


Reading Local History Trust gratefully acknowledge the sponsors of The Immigrants project:

Our sponsors logos

For more information about the project please get in touch with:
Reading Local History Trust,
Floor 3,
Reading Central Library,
Abbey Square
Reading RG1 3BQ

Tel. 0118 939 0126 (+44 1189 390126)