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'English and Irish folks use to disturb us. They would bring their dogs to frighten us if the kids made noise (in the flat). They would bring their dogs!'. This was Safia's  experience when she and her family moved to Brick Lane. 

Safia also shares her experiences of early life in Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) and how her life had changed when she became a young bride. Once she moved to the UK to join her husband, she first lived in Birmingham and later to the East End of London. Her family was harassed in Brick Lane by English and Irish neighbours. 

In times of Covid 19, her aunt and cousins passed away, she had breathing problems and her son was severely ill. She thinks there maybe resemblance between the Bangladeshi and Pakistani community in Britain.


Nurun Nessa explains her experience as a migrant housewife, mother and Covid-19. She was born in Sylhet, Bangladesh. She married when she was 16. Her husband came to the UK as a manual laborer. She then joined him in 1986 with her 5 children. Since coming to the UK the household lived in many different parts of London until they were housed by Tower Hamlets Council. She has been living in Wapping since 1997. A number of her neighbours have died of Covid.

Rubina Begum was a young bride who did not know the reality of life. The only thing she understood at the time was to maintain her home. Once her husband rejected her, she had to pick herself up, build her life and gain confidence as a NHS worker. 


Rubina was born and brought up in Islington, London. She was married at the age of 19 and brought up with six siblings.  

She grew up with the idea that she was to have a husband and live with her in-laws. 

'I was not able to study. It was one of my dreams to be a  nurse. I was doing well at my education. It would have to come to an end and sacrifice my ambition in order to become a wife and daughter-in-law.’

Before she was married her mother was terminally ill.   She had to give up her relationship with her only love.

‘It was like a Romeo & Juliet situation - a bit of Bollywood,' she said. 

When Rubina introduced him to her mother, she felt that he seemed like a nice boy.  Her mother’s wish in the eend was to get her youngest daughter married.  His family had a problem with Rubina because they thought that it was not traditional to have a love marriage. His siblings were university graduate. Rubina barely passed her GCSEs. After some persuasion, they accepted the relationship. She said:

‘All I wanted is to be a good in law and someone I could call out to. By then I lost my mother. I took my mother-in-law like my mother.  I left out my own family. They would complain that I am with my in laws all the time.’


After 6 months of being in the property with her in-law, she moved out with her husband and began to develop their own family life. From then on, she had her first daughter. She then had a boy.

‘I was a complete house wife. I would not go anywhere without the husband. I felt like I was completely within four walls. I had no clue what was going on outside at all. If I had to go shopping it would be with the husband. If I had to see my GP it would be with the husband.’


Her husband was a bus driver. He wanted to carry on enjoying his life whilst she was a complete housewife.  He was too distant from her though. He also began to make comments.  He would say:

‘if anything happens to you, I would not marry another Bengali. I would probably go for different ethnicity.’

She became depressed when he was showing hostility towards her.   He would work over time. Rubina nor her children saw her husband. His behaviour and appearance changed completely. He would dress as though he was ready for a new life. He then wanted a divorce.   She lost weight and got depressed as her life turned topsy turvy. 

‘Three months after the divorce, I did not go out. I self-isolated myself. I was living like a zombie. Finally, bills started to come in. Whilst in self-isolation, I made a Youtube video. It went viral that I was shocked. A relative told me to come out. I met up with her.’

She took Rubina to Ben Nevis, Scotland,  with other women.  By going there she was able to reflect on her situation. From then on she took steps to gain confidence in rebuilding her life.


She did not know anything about banking, getting a job nor how to claim state benefits. She was supported by different charities. Her GP referred her for mental health therapy. She also began to volunteer. After two years of volunteering, she was able to get her first job at WH Smith as  Sales Assistant.

Whilst working at WH Smith, she studied at City & Islington College. She completed phlebotomy training course. Once she completed it,  she called many hospitals to gain work experience.  She was rejected by all the hospitals. Finally she called Whittington Hospital. They said they may have something in the future. She called them every week and emailed them once a week. After two months of calling and emailing, she was offered to be a volunteer. Then afterwards she got the job as Phlebotomy.


Once Covid kicked in, she had to take a step back. She was new to her role. Her manager wanted all the experienced staff to be on the front line. According to Rubina not everyone was willing to work though - many of them have children.

‘I called my manager and told him that I want to work even though I have not been with the organisation long enough. I want to be there not just for my colleagues but to help the NHS. He was very pleased with me.’

She discussed it with her ex-husband that whilst she work at the hospital, the children would be with him. She also reassured them that she is going to be safe. She asked her son:

‘if you were will, who would you go to? Doctor? Can you imagine if the doctor did not work? My son understood.'

She would go into Covid wards. Initially she would sweat and shiver due to her worries of being too close to Covid patients. She would repeatedly tell herself that she was there to do her job. As long as she was wearing protected clothing she would be fine. 

Although Rubina had not encountered fatality within her immediate family due to Covid, her niece’s father-in-law did pass away. A few people she knew in the locality also passed away. It is more common with elderly in her experience.

Her ex-husband had to self-isolate himself because he had Covid symptoms. He had contacted her to seek advice on what measures he should be taking. He was also living with his elderly mother. She gave him strict instructions as to what he should do if she had Covid symptoms. 


She would like to become a nurse in the long term.  Her immediate career step would be to become Health Care Assistant. 

Her experience in life and Covid made her believe in herself. She also encourages her children to believe in themselves.  When she asked her children:

‘Who is your role model? They would say  - mum it is you! Because you care for people!’, she said. 




Born to a first generation Bangladeshi migrant family, Shirina is the eldest of 'many British siblings.' A self-confessed ‘Tower Hamlets girl’ was born and brought up in this borough. Little did she know then that she would also marry in Tower Hamlets.   At the age of 17, she was married off to a man chosen by her grand father.  

As a teenager, the world of motherhood was hard for her at first. She had to cook, clean and learn new ways of living with her husband. During her A-Level exams, she was fully pregnant with her first girl.   She missed going to  the cinemas, gossiping with her friends and learning to drive. These are many of  things her friends did whilst Shirina embraced her new life as a wife.  She confessed that as part of her marriage contract her husband would be the bread winner. 

‘It was kind of built into my head that I won't have to work. At that time, I did not know anything about money. I just assumed that we could live on what he made - so romantic and rosey. It was like a Bollywood film. I use to wear my sarees and I enjoyed my life as a mum. I did not have a clue what was out there or the cost of living. In a way, I did not have any ambitions either. An ambition has a price tag on it.’

Once her second daughter was born,  they moved into a bigger home. Her friends spoke about their work and colleagues they worked with.  Having a big and expensive wedding were also on the agenda for them as they prepare to settle down and get married.  It dawned on Shirina that her two girls needed a role model. There was no one else to turn to for inspiration. She knew that education was the stepping stone to a better life. She went onto do an access course.  Once she finished the course, she carried on with her education at London Met University. She  studied community management and after three years of full time education, she obtained a 1st.  Whilst studying, she worked part time and looked after her two children and a husband.  She pursued her career in the charity sector. 


‘A lot of people I met before work were just surviving. They get their three meals and they are happy. Then, I met these people who had extraordinary lives. Even when they are working full time they had hobbies and have expensive holidays.  I have not been exposed to that world until then. I did not know about helping people, tutoring and mentoring. I suddenly realised - wow!  It might sound naive but you have to understand the bubble I was in: protected by my parents and then husband. My bubble was very small.’ 

Shirina works as a part time money adviser at Limehouse Project and trains residents all over London on how to manage money. She feels that this job has given her the opportunity to engage with people on many different levels.



‘My entire family fell ill…for ten days (during the Christmas break) . Every single siblings were ill. I don’t know what happened. I don’t usually fall ill. Everyone was unwell,’ she says.

She was not sure whether it was Covid-19. When she went to work after the break, she heard about the virus but did not take much notice of it. When the lockdown was implemented, she did not prepare for it either. 

‘I knew I was going to struggle. I knew I was disciplined enough to stay home. In the first week I was making lists and trying to keep a timetable. I was trying to get my daughters motivated. The first week was really good…By third week I had my first few dark moments and I was crying. And I was crying because I was crying. I could not believe that I was that weak. I had not seen my mum, nephew and grandson.’

During her twenty years of marriage she and her husband rarely been home together at the same time. He was workaholic. In the third week of the lockdown he was going through a mental health crisis. His savings had also ran out.  As a restaurant worker he gets paid weekly. He was not furloughed.   She could not plan ahead because no one knew how long both are going to be in the lockdown. There are other horrific impact too for them:

‘My husband lost two colleagues who had underlying health conditions. I’ve also lost an aunt. My daughter and I were helping a family who had the virus. As a family we know it is very real to us and it makes me so angry when people question Covid-19’.

Her job requires working with people who have no income due to the Covid-19 pandemic and  a lot of people are having money problems. Many of them are worried about feeding their children. 

In this community a lot of people have language barriers. Many of them do not understand social distancing either.  Currently, any work I do are on the phone.Our clients have been very calm and accepted that we are going to do self-help.’


Shirina felt the impact of the rise in food prices during the month of Ramadan. A lot of people have ran out of money. Ramadan is a community event. Usually, everyone would fast together during this time. Her daughters are fasting in isolation instead of doing it together with their friends. They are finding it very hard. ‘Mosques are closed. It is so hard for men especially because that is their community time. Mosques play such a big role in the community. That is not there.’



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