11 Oct 2019

How being a community researcher reconnected me to my home town

I was born in this town. My family all live in this town. As a child, I played out on the streets with my friends in this town. In the winters we made snowmen and had snowball fights. In the summers we would have mammoth water fights and races on our bikes. I went to junior, secondary school and sixth form in this town. I started my first real paid job in this town. This town should feel like my home; a place where you feel comfortable and at ease. But it never did for me.

As far back as I can remember I hated living in this town. Walking down my own street as a child, I was subjected to racial abuse. Don’t get me wrong, I also had good friends on this street but there were those few who always made me feel different, unwanted and ashamed of who I was. I used to love playing out on the street with my friends until these racist bullies would come out and make me quiver with fear of what abuse I would have to listen to now. I could feel myself retreat into my shell, unable to be myself and quickly feel the need to run back indoors. Playtime over for me.

For years I endured this. It didn’t bother my mum but as I child I felt scared and ashamed of my culture. I wondered why I couldn’t be white so that I would fit in and not have to face this abuse. For this reason, as a child, I hated my colour, my culture and the way I looked.

My dream was always to leave this town and never look back. I never felt a part of any community. Growing up, even my own Asian community let me down in so many ways and so I was always distant from them also. When I finished my education and ventured into the big wide world of work, this town just became a place to sleep for me. I would wake up, drive out to work in another part of London and only return to sleep in my bed. All my friends were now in another part of London, my work, my interest and hobbies were all out of this town.

When I got married my dream came true and I left this town. It felt like a new beginning for me. My chance to really make a ‘home’ and start feeling at ‘home’ in this new home town of mine. Ironically, after some time, I started missing my town where I was born. I used to look forward to going back to visit my family and felt at home as soon as I entered the town. I was actually missing my town and the streets that I had so badly wanted to escape. After my marriage collapsed, I had no choice but to return to my town. Even though I was missing it whilst I lived elsewhere, I was utterly devastated that I was returning back to this place. I quickly realised I was only missing it whilst I wasn’t living here because I knew I had another home to go to. I even wondered whether a big part of my decision to get married was in order to escape this place. I felt suffocated, trapped and hopeless of the future when I returned here. Here I was again, back in that same town. Even though I didn’t face racism here any more, I still hated this place because of my childhood experiences. A big wide world out there and here I was, back in the town where I had always lived and hated. I actually felt depressed for a while.

When the role of community researcher was sent to me, my initial reaction was ‘why the hell would I want to spend more time and work in this place that I hate?’ However something inside me was pushing me to apply for it; persuading me to finally face my demons and immerse myself into this place that I have always hated.  I felt it was a chance to turn my negative experience in to a positive one by offering my skills and experiences as a resident to help improve the place.  I can honestly say it is one of the most fun and interesting jobs I have ever done. It has opened up my eyes to the fact that there is more to this town than I had ever known. There are people in this town who are amazing and fun and who I always want to be around. Some of my dearest friends are now from this town; I no longer have to venture out to find happiness, its right here in this town where I was born. I guess I would never have known this if I hadn’t become a community researcher. The role has made me dig deep into my town and I have found beautiful places I never knew existed here. 

As part of my role, activities have included talking to residents. This was challenging at first as I have always been very private and would never speak to people living in this town, never even tell them my name. However here I was asking residents questions about their experiences of living here and I was actually enjoying it. Carrying out in depth interviews has made me come across some amazing people with amazing stories which I didn’t think could exist in this town. This town was always dull, boring and horrible to me but meeting people and hearing their stories has completely changed this for me.

Holding events for the community has also been part of my role. I have thoroughly enjoyed planning these and being a part of them. Working in a team has been amazing and I have met some wonderful souls who are just extraordinary. It is a nice feeling working together and trying to get everyone to come together at these events. I have learnt certain skills which have helped me to plan activities and make my ideas come to life. None of this would have happened if I wasn’t in this role. It has helped me grow in confidence and has inspired me to be active in my community.

The role has had its challenges. So at first, I had to muster up courage to travel to certain places which I used to dread going to. Even now, when I board certain buses going to certain parts of the borough, I feel edgy because I will always remember how racist these places were and it never leaves you. However I did it for the sake of my work and I am glad I did as it makes me feel free; I am no longer held back by the racist bullies who prevented me from travelling to these places when I was younger. They are gone but I am still here travelling on these same streets!

This role has taught me what being part of a community is. Before, I guess I was happy to be a loner. I didn’t want to be part of any community as I didn’t feel connected to anyone in this place. However hearing the views of others as to what a community is and should feel like, has made me realise that being part of a community is a beautiful thing where you never have to feel alone. Even though I still don’t feel I am part of a beautiful community, it is better than feeling part of no community. I will always continue to strive and help create a beautiful community so that my child can grow up and be a part of it. Hopefully she won’t have to feel the fear and disconnection I felt growing up.

The thing I have enjoyed most since starting this role is talking to all these different people. It has made me realise that this place is no longer the same as the one I grew up in and that makes me feel really happy.

This role has increased my confidence. It has taught me that research doesn’t have to be boring. It can be creative, interesting and engaging. I have used tools such as speech bubbles, maps and in depth interviews to speak to residents with great success. Holding stalls and events has been a great learning experience and again has helped me gain confidence to speak to strangers. I am actually surprised as to how much I am enjoying this role. I am so glad I applied for it as it has reconnected me to my town and has made me see so many positives in a place where I thought only negatives existed.