Living Knowledge blog

27 July 2021

Researching community online

The British Library has a growing culture and learning programme in the Leeds region, which is home to the Library’s site at Boston Spa near Wetherby, writes Kenn Taylor, Lead Culture Producer for the Library’s northern programme.

During the Covid-19 lockdowns, this programme continued to develop, including this online participatory project developed with the Kushy Dil community group in Beeston, Leeds, which took place between March and May 2021. As an output of the project, the group have written this guest blog, exploring the ways they were able to use the Library’s online resources, and a range of other sources, to research the history of their local community:


We are Kushy Dil (Happy Heart) Women’s Group, based in Beeston, South Leeds. Pre-lockdown we used to get together weekly to take part in exercise, healthy eating, art sessions and above all having a cuppa and a laugh! However, as the pandemic stopped us from meeting up, we got together online. During this time we had the privilege of taking part in a community research project with the British Library. Our journey of discovery was fascinating, intriguing, and fun.

We started researching about our community through the British Library platforms. We all had different areas of interest from local schools to our fathers’ workplaces. We shared, discussed, and reflected each week on what we found. We found funny stories and fascinating facts but above all worked together. The culmination of the 6-weeks resulted in us writing this blog we hope everyone will enjoy reading.

“My name is Sarful and I chose the topic of the places my father worked and lived in Beeston. I lost my father at a very young age; due to this I have always been interested in researching about the places he knew. One of the places my father worked in was the Robinson and Birdsell factory from 1957. The factory is still in Beeston; I have taken a recent picture (below) which gave me a sense of closeness to my father.

RB Factory
A recent photo of the former Robinson and Birdsell factory.

RB DocumentLetters from the Robinson and Birdsell factory relating to Sarful's father.

In the British Library archives, I found information on the houses we lived in. I enjoyed researching on people in the past living at our addresses. I was intrigued to find out that you could buy a house and shop on Tempest Road for £55 in 1906 and in 1941 a lady called Miss Clare Wilson lived on Tempest Road and won a crossword competition.” 

Looking at houses was a popular choice with Ambia also exploring them: “I chose the topic of houses because my father was one of the first Bangladeshi people to buy a house in Beeston. The house my father bought is still our family home. I found in the British Library archive that my current house on Stratford Terrace used coal mines and to this day I still have the door to where they kept all the coal in my cellar. I found it interesting that in the 1800s the houses that I have lived in were not built on the maps that we had access to. It was built on open land.

Beeston 1893 mapDetail from an 1893 map of Beeston.

Beeston Map 1968The same area of Beeston, depicted in a 1968 map.
I enjoyed looking up different articles about Leeds and reading them as I found them to be very interesting and I liked looking at how differently they were written back in them days.”

Salma meanwhile: “wanted to research on: Harlech Terrace (my street), Mosques of Beeston and Cross Flatts Park. For all three topics I used British Library maps, newspaper archives and information from the internet.

Jamia Masjid Abu Huraira mosque
A recent photo of Jamia Masjid Abu Huraira mosque.

In the olden days there used to be house mosques. There was a house on Rowland terrace called shah Kamal-Jamie-masjid. On Stratford Street there was a house mosque called masjid Umar which still exists but is vacant now. They expanded this masjid and built what is now known as ‘Masjid Ibrahim’. Kashmir Mosque Welfare Association was one of the first mosques in Beeston. It transformed into Abu Huraira masjid.

I also found some interesting information about Women’s Liberation Movement and female rights in the 1980s.”  

Amelia really enjoyed the online talk with the British Library Reader Services staff. “Nicola been showing us how to search for maps and Stewart Gillies talks about the News Collection of British Library. It is amazing thousands of newspaper titles.”

Amelia was interested in her local children’s school: “I chose to research on Beeston Hill St. Luke’s Primary School as all my three children went to this school. Summer 2021 my youngest is going to finish his primary education. It is always an emotional time for me as a parent to sit in the school hall and watch the leavers’ assembly. I found some interesting photos and facts about the school including stories in the newspaper archive about fundraising for it. The way to collect donations through giving a concert goes back a long way. It is good to know the attendance was large but would be interesting to find out the total amount collected.”

St Lukes article

St Lukes article 2Clippings of fundraising efforts for St Luke's Primary School, Beeston Hill, found using the British Newspaper Archive.

Stone taken from old St. Luke’s school building 3 November 1894A recent photo of the foundation stone of St Luke's Primary School, Beeston.

Sarful beautifully said how everyone felt about this project in the group. “I enjoyed doing this as a group. Kushy Dil is a well-established Bangladeshi Women’s group in Beeston. We all have similar interests and come from similar backgrounds. We also know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and I feel this played a big part in us achieving this amazing piece of work.”

Sarful Bibi, Ambia Khatun, Amelia Ayub, Salma Yasmin, Thahmina Begum
Kushy Dil Women’s Group