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Social History:  Leicester 


Much like Nottingham and Derby, by the mid-20th century Leicester had an established Chinese community. In the 1960s, they would gather after hours to watch films together in their restaurants, projecting Bruce Lee films on walls and hung up sheets. In the 1970s, the Wan brothers, James, Jimmy, Tom, and John (father of TV fashion consultant Gok Wan) founded a group that began gathering to eat and play Mahjong at John’s Chinese restaurant in Wigston. This group was particularly valuable to the elders of the community. At the same time, a group of men in their 30s, already meeting to play football and lion dance, began looking for a more permanent place to gather.

In 1982, Kitty Chung opened a Chinese supermarket and wholesalers, and began to supply Chinese restaurants across the Midlands. Kitty formed connections with many of the local restauranteurs she supplied and together they decided to form a Chinese ladies' circle. This circle, founded in 1984, was hosted upstairs at Kitty’s wholesalers. Kitty went to great lengths to facilitate the community, dropping people home in her minibus as far afield as Nottingham and Loughborough. The ladies' circle also set up a Sunday Chinese school for children to attend while the families got together for Sunday Lunch. This was hosted at The Peking Restaurant on Charles Street, run by Kitty’s sister Maureen.

As in Derby, the involvement of enthusiastic local business people like Kitty, who sat in on many council meetings, along with the help of Councillors Soulsby and Derby, resulted in a successful funding bid for £135,000 from the Leicester City Council and the National Lottery. With this money, they were able to rent a building on Belgrave Gate and form the Leicester Chinese Community. The building was an old theatre and cinema with a stage which the community was able to use for Chinese theatre and lion dances. In 1988, the community successfully acquired further funding for a variety of classes including Mandarin for children, Tai Chi, Qigong, and IT. They were even able to open a Chinese library. By 1993, their initial pool of money ran out. They were able to secure smaller amounts of additional funding from the council. Yet, the community was disorganised, and the owner of the building repeatedly increased the rent, leaving the Leicester Chinese Community in a precarious position.

Sadly, funding from the City Council was cut in 2013, and the community had to seek out alternative meeting places. One of the only other ways for Chinese people to meet up in Leicester is through Leicester’s Chinese Christian groups. However, these groups are exclusively Christian and do not welcome the non-religious or people of other faiths, further fragmenting the community. One group began meeting at the casino where some elders liked to gamble at the Mahjong tables. From 2015 onwards the elders group, partly funded by the council, began going to the Secular Hall on Humberstone gate on Wednesdays to meet and eat together. However, due to further cuts, the Leicester community has once again lost their funding, making their use of the hall increasingly difficult and expensive. Currently, no Chinese welfare association exists in Leicester. This has left the Chinese community fragmented and the city’s elders without the essential support provided in Derby and Nottingham.



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