Chapeltown Through the Eyes of a Community Organizer and Social Activist

Chapeltown, Leeds: A Personal Summary

Chapeltown in Leeds, which has been my home for the past twenty-three years, lies approximately three miles north east of Leeds city centre. Leeds; 53.48 degrees north and 1.34 degrees west; is located in the centre of the UK. Sixty years ago the Chapeltown area was considered a White middle-class strong-hold that was specially built with wide roads, large sturdy terraced houses and detached mansions. Situated on hills that guaranteed clean fresh air beyond the confines of the congested central industrial areas the Chapeltown confines of four square miles was a retreat for people of the right social economic class and ethnicity.

During the intervening period the area has changed from being a Jewish enclave, accommodating refugees from Eastern Europe after the Second World War, to embracing African Caribbeans, South Asians and Continental African refugees and asylum seekers. The latest migrants have been various waves of Eastern Europeans, coinciding with the enlargement of the European Union.

The Chapeltown area has been a place of safety, creativity, culture and social justice haven for waves of minority ethnic groups. Presently, people of African and South Asian descents feel a strong attachment to the space.

What I have termed the artistic and cultural ‘Chapeltown Renaissance’, has its beginnings in the post-Second World War Caribbean migration to Leeds. Chapeltown is the most multi-cultural area of Leeds and is at the heart of Leeds’ Caribbean and African communities. Similar to the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ in New York during the 1920s and 1930s where musicians, poets, writers, visual artists, playwrights and various other types of cultural performers used artistic creativity to retell and solidify the stories of their existence – in Chapeltown, people of the African diaspora use their cultural arts as a means of retelling their African and Caribbean
stories to act as resistant-tools against individual and institutional racism.

This is where I live, work and fight for social justice locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

Dr Carl Hylton

Dr Hylton is Chairperson of Leeds West Indian Centre Charitable Trust (LWICCT), social justice activist, cultural historian and archivist. He is also supervisor of the LWICCT project called RACE CARD. (2 April 2013)

8th Week (Ending 30 March)

This week was spent attending to the final preparations for the 4th April Open Rehearsal at Workshop Theatre at University of Leeds and the 11th April performance at Seven Arts:

Carol at work on the set
Joe and David in rehearsal
David and Joe in rehearsal
Carol Marie and Carol at Seven Arts
Carol at Seven Arts sketching the set





Bringing the core of our physics experience into rehearsal

joe and david at oxfordJoe's notesDavid observing





We spent the week incorporating the narratives of physicist into the script and incorporating our experience of Oxford into the movement and language sensibility of the project .




Some of the materials we collected during our physics lab experience was easy to transfer to the project. The correlation between the journey of a photon and the journey of African Caribbean migrants is easy to see. Both must do extensive preparation before the actual journey, both can experience situations during the process of the journey that result in unforeseen changes.



Axel Kuhn and Jian Dong at Oxford meeting
Carol Marie, Annemarie, Axel, Jian, David, and Oliver at March Oxford meeting


Preparation for Travel

Preparions for a journey takes numerous forms and  each individual’s  preparation is unique.  One Chapeltown community member states “I like to check my flight, ready myself, and go [to the airport] really, really early…  I like to get to the airport 4 to 5 hours early.  From the time I hit the train station, I start to relax.  At the train station, I sit back and relax and the journey is my journey.  I make it my journey.”

In quantum research, preparing photons for travel requires the time consuming task of manipulating small mirrors to ideal angles, done in order to construct the optimal travel route.  Minute miscalculation of mirror angle/s frequently result in unpredictable and unwanted twists and shift in the journey,  equivalent to the derailment of a train.  If this happens, the preparation must begin again, starting with the very first mirror.

The Grip

For Caribbean immigrants to the UK,  The Grip was an essential artefact of migration, it contained within it the articles of memory, dreams, and aspirations.  The Grip itself was the icon of a journey travelled and a destination reached.  The destination reached may or may not have been the one set out for, but it was nonetheless a destination achieved through travel, through tenacious hope, and through dynamic levels of resilience.  The articles within The Grip, those tangible and intangible, kept the traveller rooted to the sacrifices and expectations of family and community no longer visible yet vibrantly present.  The Grip had its own place/space in the home, like all religious and cultural artefacts it was a part of the taken-for-granted visual and affective fields of mundane immigrant life in which survival and flourishing were the only viable choices.

6th Week (Week ending 16 March)

Chapeltown project members, Joe, David, and Carol Marie visit team member quantum physcist Axel Kuhn at the University of Oxford. Here, Axel, accompanied by postgraduate researcher Annemarie Holleczek, shares information on the building blocks of quantum research.

5th Week Update (Week ending 9 March)

“I came here when I was sixteen… Came into London then had to take the trains, three trains, to Leeds. But all of that was just passing through. My brother met me there at Leeds central station. It was the first time I felt safe, knew I was safe” Z3.

1) We’ve collected more than 25 narratives from the Chapeltown Community and more people are coming forward to share their memories of im/migration and railway travel. Thank you again Chapeltown Community.

2) Representatives at Leeds Central Railway Station and Network Rail have been welcoming of to the project and its organizers. Additional thanks to Diane Shaw and Gary.  Your time and attentiveness were greatly appreciated.

3) I have neglected to mention and continually acknowledge the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies at University of Leeds, and especially Matthew Wilkinson, in their support of this project. Without access to the library’s resources as well as practical infrastructural support, the project would have been far more difficult to undertake.

4) Physicist Almut Beige at the University of Leeds has been invaluable in her willingness to be available for share quick updates and clarification of concepts.

5) The staff and support team at Frederick Hurdle Adult Day Care,  the Leeds West Indian Centre, and RJC Dance were absolutely stellar.

The rehearsals this week have frequently turned out to be intense discussions of history, culture and physics. We realised that because of the furious pace of the project we could easily not pay adequate attention to process, which is as important (if not at times more so) as the product. Now the video and audio recorders are present at all rehearsals. This is to ensure documentation of as we finalize the movement and spoken language for the performances, but it is equally for documentation of the process. We have found the process richly valuable, documentation of some of the brainstorming sessions that brought us to a particular understanding of ourselves, the community, and science are important processes to archive.


4th Week

The collection of community narratives is mostly complete, special thanks to all the Chapeltown community participants and supporters.