He moved to Bluegate, Tipton and this is where all the factories and foundries were at the time so started working one of the local factories. He’d been a hairdresser previously and had worked in Karachi for a while so he would work in the factory during the week and at weekends or on his days off, he’d offer his services as a barber to the other local migrant workers. He spent time working between foundries and hairdressing and in 1966 he started work at a hairdressers on Muntz Street in Small Heath.
He had returned to Pakistan in 1964 and we then joined him in 1968. Although I have 6 brothers and sisters, at that time it was just me and my sister. We were both born in Pakistan and came over to the UK with our mother. I was three years old at the time and my sister was just a year old.
A rare photo, thanks to Norton Hall, of my father’s original shop on the corner of Washwood Heath Road.
By this time my father had opened up his own barber shop on the corner of Washwood Heath Road, number 2. He’d also bought a house through some part share scheme at the Saltley Gate, where the Bookers cash and carry now stands. It was called Hereford Square. As you go into the city it was the first left, where Bookers cash and carry’s entrance is, that’s exactly the spot where our house was. I remember when I was a young child I used to play outside, and because it was a cul-de-sac with very few cars on the streets in general, we used to be out there all day.
It was a two bedroomed terraced house and there were four of us as well as a few cousins. They slept in the living room and that’s how it was. I remember that as you came out of from Hereford Square, on the right hand side a lot of the houses were being pulled down. So our house was going to be pulled down eventually.
Saltley High Street. January 1961. (Courtesy of Birmingham City Council.)
As you went round to the right hand side we came to the High Street where there were a number of shops. It was quite a bustling area at that time. There was an aerial shop there, there was a cafe there, and there was a launderette. There were quite a few shops there. It was actually the heart of the Alum Rock, it was bustling, a very busy place.
There were not very many houses there anymore but I do remember a Black family living there but no Asian families. In 1971 we bought a house on Ellesmere Rd about two thirds of the way up and that’s where I still live. I bought the house opposite to the one my father originally bought. He unfortunately passed away four years ago but the family still own the original property.
Ellesmere Road 1970’ s
Ellesmere Road was a quiet road back then. We had a mixture of people living there. There were a lot of White families there as well as quite a few Black families. I’d say there were probably about 15 to 20 Asian families, which isn’t a great deal. It seemed a lot at that time but that’s all there was. Hardly any traffic, there were very few people who owned cars at that time. I remember we used to play football all day long on the road. Now it’s impossible.
I played with White lads, a few Asian lads, and a few Black lads. It was a good mixture...it was a total mixture. A lot of times you forgot which culture, or which background they were from because you were just mates, you were just friends. We’d go into each other’s houses and parents wouldn’t see the distinction between us.
The only time I’d notice the difference would be when my non-Asian friends came round to our house and mum would be struggling to speak English. I’d go into their houses; we’d have squash and crisps, and food, and whatever. It was like one big family. There weren’t any race issues; there wasn’t a distinction between colour or culture, believe it or not, at that time, no, not around Ellesmere Road, not around where I lived.
A lot of us went to the same schools, so were friends at schools. If you had issues with somebody at school, then it wasn’t an issue because of your race, your colour, or your culture, it was an issue with that person
Adderley Park, 1966 (Birmingham Mail)
We’d all go to Adderley Park a great deal. We used to play there, and Adderley Park at that time was a flourishing park. There was a lot of investment, looking back; it might as well not be a park now. All it is is a grass patch the way I see it. They had a massive hut up there where we had youth workers who used to give us cricket bats and footballs and all sorts for five pence and ten pence. It was just fantastic. There was supervision there, and we used to play all day long.
Children’s play area Adderley Park 1980’s (Birmingham Mail)
I remember there was a family who lived on Hams Road which is just by the park, and their father, the lads I used to play with, their father he must have been in his late 20s, or early 30s at the time, and this guy just loved sport and we used to go in the morning, he used to be playing football. In the afternoon he’d play cricket, with us, and in the evening he would still be playing football. It was just fantastic, it really was. But that was it...that’s the way it was.
Adderley Park 2010. (Birmingham Mail)
We never really ventured up to Ward End Park because we were quite young, nine or ten and also we’d heard stories about lots of white kids who’d beat you up. It was in the sense that if you went there you would get beaten up, and all the rest of it. Which I suppose looking back now, is very similar to the white families who are finding it difficult to come into Alum Rock. And it’s a myth, probably was a myth then, with some stories that you heard, and like I said if you had a fight with somebody, it wasn’t because of your race, your colour, or your culture, it was simply because you just didn’t get on. There were Asians who had fights with Asians, and black lads who had fights with Black lads, so it had nothing to do with the fact it was the person’s background, it was just the fact that you didn’t get on with him
Religion was very important to us as a family. We had a teacher who used to come to the house, simply because there weren’t any mosques, and he used to teach us the Koran at home, he would also teach us Urdu. I remember fasting when I was seven, eight years old, probably younger. It wasn’t because I had to, it was because I wanted to. I remember many a times mum just wouldn’t wake me up or my sister, simply because she thought we were just too young.
St Saviours was my first school and I remember on my first day I cried. I cried so much and I remember Mrs Woolley, she was there for years, I remember her carrying me to where the head’s room was and they gave me sweets to calm me down. That was however my first day. After that I really thoroughly enjoyed myself at St Saviour’s. It was a great school, and it still is.
I later went on to a school called Vauxhall Gardens which is opposite the fire station near Heartlands Academy in Duddeston. It was a predominately white school and this is where I first encountered racism. I was in fights nearly every day, many a time as a protective brother looking after my sister who also went to the same school. I didn’t really enjoy it, thank God I wasn’t there for very long. I didn’t really enjoy my time there. I then moved onto Duddeston Manor and it was amazing. There were a lot of Black kids and I never experienced racism. Mind you, there were a few teachers who would call you names like Ali Bongo and such.
I then went onto Garretts Green College after which I started work with an insurance company but use to help out cutting hair at the shop on a weekend. I became aware of James O’Neil’s Hair academy and went along and was signed up. James was really impressed with my work and entered me for a competition at the Tower Ballroom in Edgbaston. I was up against some really talented and experienced people and I came third which was amazing. This gave me the passion to then open up my own shop which I did in 1989 at 105 Alum Rock Road. At the time it was an empty waiting room for a taxi firm. I looked around this small 8 foot by 5 foot space and thought, “I could do something with this. Others thought “you can’t even get six or seven people sitting in here” but to me it wasn’t what it was, it was what it could become.
A few friends, I remember my friend Michael, who lived in Chelmesley Wood, he’s got a brother who was a singer, Bitty Mclean, quite a famous singer as well, and then there was Tony Ruddock who used to live on Edmund Road, and there was Wajid who still lives on Ralph Road. Five or six of us thought, “Right, what shall we do then?” So we just cleared the whole place out, got some paint, painted it, put mirrors up, we did all the work ourselves. It took us about three or four days and we were up and running. It was originally called Rehman’s but with friends often shortening my name to Habs, Habz the hairdressers was born.
As for our signature haircut designs, let me tell you how that all came about. My father was one of the best hairdressers I have known and very quickly learnt how to handle black afro Caribbean hair. Having passed his skills on to me, I started cutting hair in the 1980’s.
I remember once I was cutting somebody’s hair, and I was quite young then, about 15, 16 years old...and I was cutting his hair, and the clipper actually dropped on the side of his head and put a little patch there, and he got really worried. He was a Black guy, I knew him well as he was an old customer, so I apologised and starting thinking how to repair the damage. So I created a little pattern there, and it was just incredible, because after that, a lot of people started coming for these little patterns. That’s one of the things we’ve been quite famous for and funnily enough it all started as an accident.
In regards to life in Alum Rock, contrary to its infamous reputation, there was very little crime in the area, very few burglaries and never anyone being attacked in the street as you would hear was happening in other area. Drugs in the area were a big issue in the 80’s and 90’s as it was in many areas around Birmingham. In the 80’s there were a lot of Black dealers from the area who had customers from out of the area. Unlike now they didn’t peddle drugs to the local people or to school children. With Asians now moving into the trade, they’d sell it to their mums to be honest with you. Today I’d still however say that crime is low in the area but there are anti –social issues. The area is densely populated and heavily congested with cars.
Seeing a lot of rubbish on the streets, seeing drugs being sold, seeing anti-social behaviour, a decaying society, I’ve always felt in order to make a change you have to sit with people who make those strategic decisions so myself and a few close friends started working with the police a great deal.
One of the main issues was always around Eid. In other parts of the country like Wilmslow Road in Manchester, young lads used to block the road off, their cars horning, Pakistani flags on the cars, which has nothing to do with Eid, but it was just their way of...I wouldn’t even say celebrating...it was just annoying everybody else, it was just their way of doing things where they could break the law without being arrested. Because there were so many of them, the police were in a confused state, where they thought, Is this celebrations? Is it right to be going in heavy handed? Alum Rock Road became exactly the same thing. There were a few locals, and the majority of the people who brought the cars in were from outside, from different cities, really.
Alum Rock became the focal point on Eid Day. The local kids off school didn’t have anywhere to go, so they would just congregate on the Alum Rock Road. The police were there in numbers. The police were being abused by these people.
I remember once walking past a police officer, female police officer, who was being verbally abused, these guys were swearing at her so badly, I thought, please why don’t you arrest these people? but she couldn’t because she had her orders not to do anything.
So we started engaging with the police...you know...this has got nothing to do with Eid. These are not Eid celebrations, these are just people, right, who are just causing chaos. So they started changing the police tactics and stuff to where we are now.
Working with the police a zero-tolerance approach was adopted. Doctor Bhatti’s surgery on the Alum Rock Road has a large car park and there was a time where a lot of these people who were breaking the law, going up and down the Alum Rock Road in their cars, were being pulled up in there and being searched.
Many a time they found drugs, alcohol, and all sorts. So eventually the word got round that Alum Rock was a zero-tolerance zone. If someone waved a flag from their car they'd get pulled over, if they bipped their horn when they shouldn’t bip they'd get pulled over, if they weren't wearing their seatbelts they'd get pulled over. Creating a zero-tolerance zone where actions previously undertaken were liable to potential prosecution made a huge difference to the levels of anti-social behaviour around the Alum Rock Road during Eid. The local community did not want it and weren't willing to tolerate in any further.
Kadeer Arif was appointed the Town Centre Manager for the area along with Phil Granger, the Neighbourhood Manager. Both collectively were working with the community and doing a fantastic job and things were changing for the better. A momentum had been generated and there was optimism that this would continue. Unfortunately however the momentum seems to have hit a brick wall and things are now in regression. By this I mean that the local politicians are really not sitting up and listening and taking note of the needs of the area at all. Around here it's always been a Labour stronghold. Councillors unfortunately, or fortunately for some people I guess, are selected on a clan basis rather than being elected as the councillor for their credentials. Individuals get elected because of the amount of people they know and use them to influence family and friends to get them in. To me personally the person is far more important than the party. Many of those voting more often than not don’t really know what the remit of the councillors is, they really don’t want to know, because their father voted Labour, or Conservative, or Lib Dems they just feel they have to do the same. Choosing the right person who has the potential to bring about positive change for the area becomes irrelevant.
As a result of the apathy of local politicians if you walk down Alum Rock Road or Washwood Heath Road, dumped rubbish is clearly visible and piling up, prostitution is unfortunately on the rise as is the prevalence of drugs. All this is coming back into the area simply because there is no accountability.
The police just don't have the resources to be dealing with it even though they’re putting a brave face on and say that they can handle it. But how can they, where you had twenty police officers, suddenly you’ve got five, it’s totally impossible. The city council with all the cuts they’ve got, they can’t provide the services that are needed in the area
Last five years, there’s been a large migration of Afghans and Romanians moving into the area. I foresee a lot of issues in the future a lot of tension. You’ve got the indigenous Romanians who’ve come over to better themselves, they’ve found themselves jobs, they’ve got businesses in this area now, as you can see, and then you’ve got the Romanian gypsies. There’s prostitution, there’s a lot of crime that they’ve brought with them. I’m talking about a lot of the Romanian gypsies, maybe not all of them, but the majority that I see, they’re begging on the street. There’s a lot of stuff they’re doing that they shouldn’t really be doing.
The indigenous Romanians who’ve come over, they are working, a lot of them are skilled, they’re builders, they’re doing other things, and they’ve brought money with them as well. So they are actually putting investments in the area, which is a brilliant thing, which is great for the area, which is good for Britain, right? But then again, there’s got to be a balance, and it really comes down to accountability again. If there isn’t any accountability, then what’s going to happen? You see a lot of young girls, Romanian girls, who are doing things they shouldn’t be doing, and I don’t really need to spell that out. Unfortunately there is a market for it and with obvious links between prostitution and drugs both are on the rise because of the lack of accountability. Many of our politicians, I wouldn’t say they are blind to it, they just look the other way. They don’t want to deal with the issues.
In terms of Alum Rock / Saltley and its future, I'm not very optimistic I'm afraid. Things are likely to get worse unless the politicians sit up smell the coffee, take the bull by the horns and really get to grips hands on with issues affecting the local area. They need to be sitting with statutory partners and really get a grip on the situation and the reality on the ground. If they don’t we are just probably going to get another Handsworth riot on our hands.