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Winner of Business Excellence Achievements & Mentors Award 2004 supported by the Mayor of London and London Development Agency
Winner of GlaxoSmithKline Community Health Impact Awards 1998 in partnership with King's Fund


This oral history project recorded memories of early Chinese immigrants in the UK for inclusion in a DVD. This project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The project aimed to achieve the following:

  • To record memories and experiences of Chinese elderly who migrated to and settled in the UK from the 1950s.
  • To enhance understanding of the cultural roots of Chinese customs and values among the mainstream society and the younger Chinese generation.
  • To develop sense of community among the Chinese population.
  • To empower and develop leadership qualities among the young volunteers.

The project also aimed to promote understanding of our cultural heritage, recognising the past struggle and the present survival of our elderly and, most importantly, appreciating their role in creating today’s multicultural nation.

The project was divided into four main parts:

  1. Planning, recruiting, research, and training (Feb-July 2004)
  2. Interviews (July-September 2004)
  3. Editing (October 2004 - March 2005)
  4. Launch and Activities (April-May 2005)

Over 40 volunteers had joined our activities in various stages. There were locally born Chinese people, students from Hong Kong and China, working adults, even British people learning to speak Chinese.

We ran a comprehensive four-day training programme in July 2004 which covered the following topics:

  • Understanding yourself
  • Understanding others
  • Communication skills
  • Working in a group
  • Historical backgrounds of Chinese migration
  • Community services accessible to the Chinese community in the UK
  • Heightening cultural awareness
  • A one-day reminiscence and interview skills workshop in Age Exchange
  • Basic camera and editing skills
  • Research ethics
  • Pilot interview practice

Who we interviewed

We interviewed 31 elderly Chinese in London over the summer of 2004, and collected over 27 hours of footage were collected. Our interviewees came from a range of diverse backgrounds:

  • Age: range from 60 to 92
  • Geographical location: all living in different boroughs of London; some had lived elsewhere before, such as Liverpool, Dartford, and the Wales.
  • Places of origin: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Burma, Jamaica, and Mexico.
  • Languages: Cantonese, Mandarin, and English
  • Education: from uneducated to university
  • Occupation: artists, poets, nurses, lawyers, accountants, social workers, engineers, office managers, factory foremen, garment workers, laundries, catering business owners and workers


Our project was unique because:

  • We produced the first full-length community documentary about Chinese people in the UK
  • We emphasised volunteer participation. Volunteers were involved in every stage from planning, steering, to implementation
  • We emphasised intergenerational communication: we brought together the young and the elderly.

The Product

The DVD features an 87-minute documentary of interviews with Chinese elderly people in London, professionally edited by Catalin Brylla and illustrated with relevant photographs from archives and individual interviewees, in original languages with English subtitles. Also included is an interview with a Malaysian Chinese couple and an article detailing the background history of Chinese immigration in Britain.

The documentary contains nine themes:

  1. Childhood experiences
  2. The wars years
  3. Marriage in China
  4. Migration
  5. Early impressions of Britain
  6. Settlement
  7. Achievements
  8. Next generation
  9. Outlook on British life

Launch of the DVD

The DVD enjoyed a successful launch on 25 April 2005 in the Museum of London. About 130 people attended and gave the production very high acclaim. A series of educational activities (screenings, exhibitions, and discussions) followed to heighten cultural awareness among mainstream society and the young Chinese generation.

To get a copy of the Whispers of Time documentary

The Whispers of Time DVD is available to order from our online shop.


See photographs and watch videos of the Whispers of Time project.