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Celebrating diversity of the real Old Trafford

FIGHTING SPIRIT: Mike Embrack teaches Kamlyn Alder-Morton, aged six, Muay Thai kickboxing as Malachi Oyediwura, also six, observes

BEST KNOWN for housing one of the UK’s most famous sporting venues, the fact that Old Trafford was home to a wide range of people from different backgrounds is often overlooked as is the contribution the African Caribbean population made to the area when they first settled here from overseas.

Those unfamiliar with the locality will be surprised to discover that for over a century there have been influxes of people from Africa, the Caribbean, Ireland, Turkey, Pakistan, India, recently Poland and Eastern Europe, making the area one of the most culturally diverse in Greater Manchester.

However, a film showcased at the recently opened Limelight centre in Old Trafford delved deep into old photo archives and film footage to reveal the rich and varied history of one of the city’s most world-renowned towns.

Manchester Histories and Limelight worked with the people of Old Trafford to produce a 4D visual and sound experience, which brought to life the industrious and friendly nature of Old Trafford through the ages.

Chief executive of Manchester Histories, Karen Shannon, has been a resident of Old Trafford for over 28 years.

She said: “The film has an immersive feeling and is not linear so does not follow a narrative, but what it does do is reveal local places and people whom many will recognise and know.

“We felt it was important that local people had a voice in the film and were able to express their feelings about Old Trafford.”

Karen worked with local people David Esdaille and Eleanor Crowther, who run the local history group, to record the tales of new and old residents.

Debbie McKenzie-Bhalai, 51, did not feature in the film but was born in Old Trafford, only leaving the area in 2004 to live in nearby Stratford when she married.

Her parents came to England from Jamaica and she has many happy memories of growing up in the area.

Like many families from the Caribbean, they lived in a large Victorian house with a wealth of space over three floors, which was shared by members of Debbie’s extended family. She recalled: “My time growing up in Old Trafford was fabulous; the streets were always filled with kids. There were mainly white and black children playing out together from what I remember, but colour didn't matter - we were all friends.

"Whether it was winter, snow or sleet we found a reason to play outside."

She recalls how protective her mother and father were when they restricted her from going into the homes of other people or having sleepover like her peers did.

“I think I inherited their traits of mistrusting people and I am just as strict with my own children,” Karen said.

“But I loved it there, I had a friend on every street and Mr Bracewell, who owned the lo- cal shop, used to let us have firelighters on credit because no one had a lot of money then.”

The African Caribbean population of Old Trafford is still thriving and in fact many local people have been able to prosper because of regeneration and the new Limelight centre, described as a “community health and wellbeing hub”. The multi-use space is home to a pharmacy, library, café, hair and beauty salon, day nursery, optician, meeting rooms, business hub as well as the 4D immersive space and 81 extra care apartments to sup- port independent living for the over-55s.

Limelight’s community connector, Audra Brandy, said: “It replaces what was already in Old Trafford, but we have upgraded what they had before and brought in extra facilities to cater to the needs of the community.

The centre is accessible to all local residents and there are many people from the African-Caribbean population who are operating successful businesses there.

“When the centre was established we gave local people the opportunity to tender for the provision of services and they took advantage of that and are doing well here,” said Audra.

“For example, the man who successfully bid for the clean- ing contract is of Jamaican descent.

“It is open to everybody and is so diverse.”

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