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How Somali Women Built Community Networks In London During The 90s

Content warning: There is one reference to sexual violence in this article.

Af macaan garan macaan baa dhaanta.

A sweet (generous) hand is better than a sweet (generous with promises) mouth.

My mother’s generation were known for their generous hand, that was how they survived migrating to London in their 20s. The 1990s was steeped in Thatcher’s neoliberal project, with the decade beginning with the poll tax riots. By 1999, 7,495 Somalis had arrived in the UK, representing 11% of the refugees that arrived in Britain that year.

When my mum and auntie first moved to London, they were two of three Somalis that lived on a road that stretched through Harlesden. Now, I describe this side of Harlesden as the ‘Somali Mile’ as it is bustling with diraq (Somali dress) shops, cafes and restaurants. For this piece, I interviewed two Somali women of that time to ask how they built their community networks in North-West London, why they think there remains a strong and present Somali community and how they created joy before the Somali Mile emerged.

My aunt, named Ms R as is known in her workplace and Brent’s most beloved teaching assistant, moved in with her aunt when she arrived in London in 1993. She paid this hospitality forward when her niece arrived from Denmark to work and study in London a decade and a half later.