Welcome to Stories from the Quarter!

Stories from the Quarter is a National Lottery heritage exchange project that explores our city’s medieval quarter and the stories of its local residents.

A huge thank you to NLHF for making this exciting project happen in our fine city.

Through a series of wrap-around activities that uses existing and new collections of oral histories as a starting point, Norfolk school children and local residents will be taken on a journey of discovery and intrigue into the vibrant and diverse communities that have lived and worked on King St and Magdalen St and surrounding areas. From the medieval merchant trader, Robert Toppes, who built Dragon Hall, to Linda Jones, who lived at the old bakery in the 1960s, to Wali Ullah Magdalen Street’s Spice Valley restaurant owner.

Moyen, Nifa Uddin and Mash Rhaman

Local history

“I suspect that most people are aware of the general heritage of Norwich as a cultural place and a religious place, but I’m not sure about the trade and the wealth in the past.”

Moyen Uddin – NHS GP, oral history interviewee

Bengali Stories

National Centre for Writing’s home at Dragon Hall, built in 1427

Bengali and Sylheti-speaking communities

The project has a special focus on Norfolk’s thriving Bengali and Sylheti-speaking communities and will be collecting 10 oral history interviews from community members: including those associated with the mosques, hospitality, transport and NHS professionals. The project has recruited its own community engagement practitioner, Mahbubur Rhaman (Mash), who has been talking with the community, identifying interviewees for the project and conducting interviewees, alongside volunteer oral history interviewer, Shiblee Sayed. The interviews focus on people’s memories of migration, growing up as second and third-generation Bengalis, working in Norwich/Norfolk

Inspiration for Stories from the Quarter came from the King St Community Voices project, 2011, which collected over 50 interviews from those who remembered living and working on king St throughout the 20th century. These are publicly available in the National Archives at the Norfolk Record Office. This new collection of Bengali oral histories will also be housed here once complete.

Thank you to the Dragon Hall Volunteers who helped us reconnect with the King St Community Voices collection, trained the school tutors and took oral history interviewees on a tour of Dragon Hall.

The Tamarind restaurant in Blofield

Medieval Heritage

“How can you not be affected? How can you not be connected? It’s just absolutely phenomenal…. 100 years later, we’ll be talking about this. And, you know, it is it’s when you see the architecture. I absolutely get goosebumps. I’ve seen the spire at the cathedral I’ve seen it over the last 30 years since I’ve been in Norwich. But every single time I see it, it’s in a different light, a different shade, it’s like a new beginning”

Giash Miah – owner of Tamarind restaurant, Blofield – on Norwich’s medieval heritage

School activity

Throughout June and July 2022, five Norfolk primary schools took part in a 3 workshops series that had over 240 children exploring Dragon Hall’s medieval past, King St’s life as a bustling mid-century high street and Magdalen St’s present-day identity as a popular restaurant area. The tutors led classes though a series of activities including creative writing, drawing, exploring objects, listening to oral histories and independent exploring.

“They loved the experience of being in the hall and exploring the tiny details. They also enjoyed how quickly we were able to turn that into poetry! Hearing the oral histories was fabulous too, and so nice for them to hear from ‘ordinary’ people.” – Will Turnpenny, Assistant Head at Magdalen Gates primary school

“Improving the cultural capital of our children is something that is vital to the primary experience. Teaching children to draw inspiration from their local environment is a fantastic skill as well.” – Tamzin Garrod, Colman Junior school

Thank you to participating schools who produced some fantastic creative writing.

  • Magdalen Gates primary school
  • Hemblington primary school
  • Mulbarton Primary school
  • Sprowston Junior school
  • Colman Junior school
Wali Ullah and Mash Rhaman

A growing community

“I love cooking and I love to have really good cooked food and that’s the reason I’m here [in Norwich], for the catering industry. I love food, and where I grew up in Dhaka in Bangladesh, it’s very original.

“When I first arrived here in 2006 there were only 50-45 families – in the Bengali community and I used to do voluntary work with the Norfolk and Norwich Bangladeshi Association. Now there’s around 150 families – including doctors and many other professions.”

Wali Ullah – Owner of the Spice Valley restaurant, Magdalen St

Shagufta Sharmeen

How will the Bengali oral history collection be shared with the wider community?

The next phase of Stories from the Quarter will focus on making public the Bengali oral histories.

Once the ten interviews have been collected and transcribed into written form they will be catalogued and archived at the Norfolk record office and made permanently, publicly available. All interviewees and their families have been invited for a tour and information session at the archive to see where and how their interviews will be stored.

Writer and translator, Shagufta Sharmeen, will be turning each transcript into a condensed story and translating them into either English or Bengali so that they available in both languages. These stories will be printed in a project pamphlet and made digitally available to the public.

An audio version of each written interview story will be recorded and a series of listening posts installed at relevant locations across the city, accompanied by map so that anyone can go exploring with it.

British Bangladeshi Shagufta initially trained as an architect. Her stories have appeared in Wasafiri, Asia Literary Review, City Press and the Speaking Volumes Anthology ‘Not Quite Right for Us’. Two of her stories are due to be published in Massachusetts Review and Adda magazine in autumn 2022. Currently, she is working on a nonfiction piece exploring the impact of changes in urban cityscapes.

Shagufta was the youngest recipient of Bangla Academy Syed Waliullah Award (2018) for outstanding contribution in Bangla literature. Her short story Sincerely Yours was long listed for the BBC Short Story Award 2021. From a record number of entries, her short story What Men Live By was shortlisted for Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2022 and her short story In the Soup was shortlisted for Creative Future Writers’ Award 2022.

Bengali oral history collection

“I do think this is a great platform for us to be noted as part of Norfolk’s history… I think it’s a wonderful idea in that [people will] understand that Norfolk is not just a place of history but it’s also a cultural place.”

Nifa Karim-Uddin

Look out for more Stories from the Quarter events, including heritage open days and community days.

The first listening post will be coming to Dragon Hall in October 2022!

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