A Second Home in Nottingham: Stories of Immigration to Hoodtown

8 November 17 words: Caroline Barry

What’s life like for immigrants Nottingham? Caroline Barry asked a load of Notts residents to tell of their relocation tales...

Sometimes I can’t believe I’ve been in Nottingham for four years.

I think about all the valuable things I’ve learned since I got here, like what a cob is and why chips are the best thing to put in it. I still remember the first time someone said “duckeh”, and I still remember the moment I realised that Nottingham has a huge community of people who’ve made the city their second home.

I moved here from rural West Cork in Ireland as my country collapsed into a despair of emigration, EU bailouts and unemployment. It wasn’t an easy choice to make, but it was one that saved me from the misery of the dole office. I was very fortunate to land on my feet here as Nottingham people are friendly, hilarious and above all, great craic.

But I wonder how much easier it would be to know where everyone goes when they get settled here? Would it make a difference to me?

I decided to meet some others who’ve also made Nottingham their adopted city, to see what they think, to learn about their lives, and to see how long it took before someone mentioned Brexit.

Monika, Italy

I was offered a job and at the time I had to choose between Southampton and Nottingham. I knew nothing about either but I chose Nottingham because it looked cheaper and the University of Nottingham has a better reputation than the one in Southampton. I’d been living in Oxford for five years but I was originally from Italy. In order to decide between the two places at the end, I relied on a dream. I know it might sound crazy but at one point I could not make up my mind. Eventually I had this dream in which I was saying, “I’m going to Nottingham.” And here I am.

I miss my family and friends, and big family events. That being said, my favourite memory here has been a party with many friends in April. At times, I do miss the food but I am quite open to trying new stuff and here in UK there’s a good chance to explore this. The weather? Well, it doesn’t bother me much. I know Italians often complain about it, but I think after ten years in the UK I am used to changeable and unstable weather. It’s not a big issue.

My first impression of Nottingham and my first adventure was finding a flat. This turned out to be a nightmare as I saw some very horrible places. Eventually I found a nice place and overall I would say I liked the city. I wish I’d have known that Radcliffe is a different borough; it took me ages to set my water account as I had no idea where my flat was located. I now work full-time as I completed a two-year course in May 2017, which I did part-time while working.

If I could introduce one thing to Nottingham, it would be fashion. Although I get very frustrated by shops closing down by four or five in the evening.

Monika’s top five places in Nottingham:
Jam Cafe, Library in West Bridgford, The Hockey Art Club, U Tavern, Arboretum Park

Monika. illustration: Dolly Loves Dallas

Esther, Nigeria

I came to Nottingham to study, that was my intention. At seventeen, I never thought I would call Nottingham home but after eleven years, I can officially say it is. I originally came from Nigeria; I miss the sunshine, it’s just perfect.

I cried so much when I first arrived. I moved to the UK at sixteen, but I lived in Cambridge and walked or cycled everywhere. Moving to Nottingham was a shock; there were so many different coloured buses with different numbers and routes, and I wasn’t used to it at all. It was too big of a city for me, but I did start working here and started my own family.

I was sad to see so many independent stores close down after the financial crash, but I’m so pleased that they’re coming back now. Nottingham is different and quirky and it was frustrating to see it lose some of its character. Given the time, I would love to introduce Nigerian street food to the city and add to that character.

I wish I had known how easy it was to use the trams. I stayed away for about nine years because I was so nervous to get on them, but they are absolutely amazing!

Ester’s top five places in Nottingham:
Rough Trade, Wollaton Park, Newstead Abbey, Lace Market, Colwick Country Park

Esther. illustration: Dolly Loves Dallas

Miguel, Portugal

I finished my masters in Early Childhood Education in 2013 in Portugal. Then, in 2014, I got a grant from the EU to do some work experience in a different country. At the time my girlfriend, now wife, was also looking for a placement in her field. She was offered a position here so I followed her, hoping I would also find something to do in Nottingham.

I come from Viseu, a beautiful little city in Portugal. My first impression was that Nottingham is beautiful, very multicultural, and I felt at home, although I miss the food and the weather. Portuguese food is amazing. And the wine; we have very, very good wine. People think we just have port wine, but you should try some from my region: Dão.

Also the music and poetry we have, fado, is very difficult to explain; it's an emotion and the only way to understand is to listen. I’d recommend Carminho, Mariza, Amalia and Camané. I’d like to introduce Portuguese poetry to Nottingham; Fernando Pessoa is easy to find English translations of, same with José Luis Peixoto.

At the moment, I'm looking for a job. It was a surprise to see that it's very difficult to work in Nottingham. I don't know if things would be different in another city, but I even started by offering my services for free because I had a grant from the European Union.

I was convinced that with my experience and qualifications it would be easier to find a job in education, but it was very frustrating to see that nobody would answer m; even places that I knew were desperate for people. I knocked on a lot of doors, but nobody gave me a chance to prove myself until after almost eight months of trying, when I got an email on my birthday from a charity in Clifton that works with children in need. They offered me a position as a team leader. It was the perfect birthday gift and one of the happiest days in my life, because I was just about ready to give up and move to another country.

After this experience, I got my Qualified Teacher Status and a supply agency gave me a chance. For a while, things seemed to be looking up, I was finally a teacher in the UK. However, the workload is too small and seems to be dwindling further, so I started applying for more permanent positions in schools as a foundation teacher – I miss seeing the same class through a whole year, witnessing their progress – but the answer is always negative, despite having a Masters in Childhood Education.

I even tried getting work as an assistant teacher, to get my foot in the door in a school, but so far nothing has worked. With the prospect of either spending another school year rolling my thumbs waiting for the phone to ring or having to find a job doing something else, it has started to seem like I love Nottingham more than it loves me, so I might have to try my luck elsewhere if nothing comes up soon.

I have been loving the process of finding new places and hidden gems here. It still amazes me that after this long I can still find a new favourite spot, a new terrace or beer garden, a new flavour, a new stunning view. If I had known it all from the start, then I wouldn't get that buzz of discovery.

Miguel’s top five places in Nottingham:
Attenborough Nature Reserve, Wollaton Park, Annie's Burger Shack, Malt Cross, Rock City

Miguel. illustration: Dolly Loves Dallas

Rita, Portugal

I'm a Clinical Psychologist. I needed more experience after I finished my degree, though, and the job market in Portugal at the time was pitiful with the economic crisis. I managed to get a grant from the European Union as part of the Leonardo da Vinci programme, to do some work experience in a different country.

I applied to so many places in the UK and France, I was starting to lose hope it was ever going to happen. Nottingham were the first, after eight months of looking, to say "Come on over!" So I did and I liked it, so I stayed.

I started working for the Perinatal Psychiatric Service, a wonderful team that supports pregnant and postnatal women for whom parenthood isn't all it's cracked up to be because of mental illness. This strong group of mental health professionals do their very best to help every woman they see get better and to keep families together and healthy. It has been found that, in the UK, 1 in every 7 deaths in the first year after a woman has her baby is by suicide. It is such a vital area of health and yet it is so tragically underfunded. I was glad I could help out.

I have moved on from the Perinatal Service and I now work for an IAPT service called Insight Healthcare. IAPT stands for Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies. We offer free talking therapies to people with mild to moderate common mental health problems, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, couples with marital issues, complicated bereavements, and other similar issues. (You can self-refer by calling 0300 555 55 82.) It's very rewarding but also very demanding; as with any other NHS service, there is a lot of pressure to meet targets and to increase productivity.

We get very good feedback from clients though, and that's what it is all about for me, knowing I've made a difference in someone's life. When I help someone be a bit happier, I like to think that the whole world got a bit better for it, as I hope the positivity ripples out and touches as many people as possible. I follow the motto of Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouts, who said "...the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn come to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best."

I'm from the North of Portugal, a city called Viseu, but I spent most of my adult life in Lisbon, with a stint in Paris. As St. Augustine said, “The world is a book, and those who don't travel only read one page.” It wasn't until a few years after I left my hometown that I started appreciating it, as is usually the case. It is a beautiful place, with a historical centre that dates back to the twelfth century and is surrounded by gorgeous nature. You can find little valleys there where the mountain rivers flow through waterfalls to create natural pools carved out of the rock by time and water alone. And you can swim in the crystal clear waters if you can bear how cold it gets, but with temperatures of over 40º on some summer days, you need the refreshment. But staying there was never an option for me. It's too small and I needed the variety, the exposure to new cultures, the melting pot.

I would like to introduce the art of improvising and adjusting to the different and the unexpected to Nottingham. We call the latter desenrascanço, a sort of MacGyver-like skill to make the best of an unexpected situation, or get yourself out of a situation even without having all the proper tools or preparation.

I feel like people get too stuck in their little boxes here, and if something doesn't go according to plan they don't really know what to do. For example, you would think with the amount of immigrants in this country, services would have adapted to foreign names. Yet I keep struggling everywhere I go, when applying for a DBS check, booking a holiday, even when banking. They never know what to do because my name is longer than what their forms accept, or the online forms come up with all sorts of error messages. Stop the number-of-characters discrimination, official applications aren't Twitter!

I do miss my family and my cat. The UK is not in the Shengen Area, so there has never been completely free movement of people, animals and merchandises to here so I couldn't easily bring my cat with me; that's why you have to show your passport at customs, and that doesn't happen in the rest of the EU, you know?

I miss the warmth of spring and summer days, when you wake up and it's already well over 20º outside. And the food, of course, that distinct taste you only get from fresh fruits and vegetables that have ripened in the sun before being picked. I miss never being far from the ocean and swimming in open waters as much as I could. And it's not easy missing out on all those little big moments: the birthday parties, the meals together with friends, getting to know their children, being there for graduations and celebrating new jobs. All those moments that make up a life, and that I now only get to watch through a screen.

The first place I ever visited in Nottingham was the Arboretum. I moved here in May a few years back, and it was freezing compared to Portugal; I was straight back to wearing woolly jumpers. The Arboretum was lovely, though, blooming with flowers at that time, some of them I had never seen before, and full of squirrels scampering around. I would go for walks around the lake or the grounds and get every bit of sunshine I could. I had to adjust my expectations, though. I soon found I was getting depressed and claustrophobic by how much cloudier the sky is here. I finally got Asterix being afraid of the sky falling on his head. So I made a deal with myself, that any day when I got to see a bit of blue, no matter how small, would count as a good day. I started looking out for the blue between the clouds, and you can usually see spots of it here and there. It definitely improved my quality of life, changing my thinking like that.

Being made to feel like I wasn't welcome after I’d invested so much into making this my home frustrates me. Not being able to vote in decisions that affect my life massively, but I’d come to terms with not voting in general elections. After Brexit, though, I felt like going full-on suffragette and saying "No vote, no pay" and just stop paying taxes, but they just come out of my salary so I couldn't even do that, could I?

I know most Brits have nothing against me or my kind; the immigrants – the word is not an insult, you know? – yet I definitely felt how privileged I am for being white, because other people I know and like couldn't blend in as easily by just keeping their mouths shut so your accent doesn't show. For a while there, you could feel the hate and the uneasiness, the anti-muslim protests that looked like they had borrowed the chants and placards from nazis in the thirties. The utter nonsense of it all was very frustrating, after so many years of universal primary education you would think people would be more knowledgeable about the world they live in, and yet there they were, repeating history like lemmings.

The other thing that made me very frustrated was how sexist this country is. I come from a Latino country, where the whole macho thing is still quite in vogue, so I didn't expect things would be worse here. And yet I have come across misogyny in all shapes and forms, and a lot of it coming from women themselves. I have been told off at Debenhams for wanting to buy a beige onesie with a tiger on it for a newborn girl because, as the lady tried to explain as if I were thick, that was clearly a male outfit.

I have also been told by a female bank clerk that my husband withdrawing money and giving it to me when I was waiting for a new bank card is “how it should be anyway.” I have seen so many women racked with guilt because they actually want to get back to work after having a baby, but they're not supposed to want anything but the fifties-housewife-with-a-baby bliss. It's pervasive and unchallenged, and that irritates me tremendously.

I grew up reading about the suffragettes, and the people who went on strike in the eighties, and how British labour unions got everyone the right to a weekend and an eight-hour working day and so forth. It was very frustrating to see how most Brits nowadays don't even seem to remember that, instead just take their rights for granted and keep letting them be taken away with nothing more than a bit of a moan, and sometimes even applauding while it's being done.

Seriously though, I have always felt quite lucky to have landed in Nottingham. It's a brilliant city, full of culture, good live concerts, music in the streets, good food, good people. The salary-to-rent ratio is quite good. I did my research as well and have read LeftLion from day one, so I don't feel like I have had any surprises. The only thing I didn't count on was moving to an island and being pretty much as far from the sea as anyone can be here.

Rita’s top five places in Nottingham:
Annie's Burger Shack, Jam Café, Warsaw Dinner, Central Library in Angel Row, Page 45

Rita. illustration: Dolly Loves Dallas

Caroline, Ireland

I originally come from Sligo, which is in the West of Ireland. I lived there until I was eighteen, at which point I moved to Dublin to study to become a Primary Teacher. I lived in Dublin for ten years before I moved to the UK .

Through running Club AC30 gigs in Dublin (post-rock and shoegaze label based in London) from 2007 to 2010 with my friend Dave Flynn, I met Notts band Amusement Parks on Fire and we really hit it off. Dave and I would visit them in Nottingham and they’d come to hang out and play shows for us in Ireland. I was impressed with the music scene here right from the start. When I first visited in March 2008, I was taken to a gig at The Chameleon Arts Café and was blown away by the amazing turn out for a DIY show.

The enthusiasm for the arts, the camaraderie between bands and punters, and the inclusivity; all of this was a joy to witness. Every time I returned, I made new friends. It really felt like these were my people.

We met so many amazing people through APOF, JCDecaux, Swimming, You Slut!, Red Shoe Diaries and Pilgrim Fathers, at the time that Notts began to feel like a second home. Reaching an impasse, I took a career break from my Primary Teaching job in Dublin in 2010 and relocated to embark on a new adventure with some seminal characters. I split my time between working as a teacher at Forest Fields Primary School and two bands, Dystopian Future Movies (Guitar and Vocals) and Church of the Cosmic Skull (Vocals). Both bands have just released their debut albums and they have been very well received in their respective genres, exciting times ahead!

I love my school and the kids. They are a daily inspiration to me; so open to learning and new ideas and so full of wisdom and common sense. I plan to start up a lunchtime poetry and songwriting club for Key Stage 2 kids. (A thinly veiled rock club!) I’ve been a teacher for fourteen years in all, six of those in the UK, but I’ve never seen anything like the funding shortages and workload issues within the education system in England currently. A generation of hardworking and dedicated teachers are either crumbling under the pressure or leaving so that they can attempt to redress their critically askew work-life balance.

The demands of a system in crisis is creating an untenable situation. The impact of understaffing due to cutbacks and a system driven by exam results gleaned from an inhomogeneous cohort of students does not cater to the individual. The saddest fact of all is that it's the kids who are suffering. Exam anxiety and burnout witnessed in kids under eleven? We need a rapid rethink.

I miss so many things but mostly my family and friends. I think the longer I have been here, the harder it gets to be away from loved ones. Many of my friends are moving to the country or starting families and our lives have really begun to diverge, so it’s increasingly important to us to stay in touch. My family and friends are incredible, they visit often and fly over for our shows, and it means so much to me.

Irish and British culture has numerous similarities due to proximity but the differences in phrasing inherent in the spoken language fascinate me. Even though it is the same language, Hiberno-English has many variants as there are features influenced by the Irish language. There is a lyrical quality to my native Hiberno-English and I’ve enjoyed noticing how some of that has infiltrated dialects over here! I’ve heard some of my teaching colleagues say “grand” instead of “fine”. I like to think I contributed to that!

My favourite memory of Nottingham so far has been playing Rescue Rooms with Church of the Cosmic Skull last September to a sold-out room. It was our first ever show and we were totally blown away by the support. It was one of the most electrifying shows I’ve ever played. The amazing people of Notts and beyond have really gotten behind us – there was so much love in that room!

Caroline’s top five places in Nottingham:
The Lincolnshire Poacher, The King Billy, The Chameleon Arts Café, The Stratford Haven, The Doom Room (where Dystopian Future Movies make lots of cathartic noise).

Caroline. illustration: Dolly Loves Dallas

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