Joe Hopkinson (Huddersfield) on the bussing of Black and Asian pupils in the 1960s and 1970s

For an MA by research at the University of Huddersfield I submitted a portfolio of work from an oral history study of Commonwealth immigrant children in Huddersfield. The project focussed on immigrant children’s experiences of dispersal school bussing in the town. This was a policy where Black and Asian pupils were bussed away from the own district to schools that were almost entirely populated by white children. As white children were never bussed this was a form of social engineering that only negatively affected the social and educational development of immigrants. Despite taking place in twelve Local Education Authorities across Britain during the 1960s and 1970s the policy is not well-remembered by academics or the public. Besides examining bussing in the previously unstudied area of Huddersfield, this project was also unique in speaking with Caribbean people who were bussed. Overall, it aimed to examine bussing within the local context of Huddersfield, and to also raise the public’s awareness of the policy and many of the issues which surround it.

The project’s outputs include a dissertation, a documentary, and an accompanying essay on the reasoning and methods behind the film. I applied to the SSLH for a bursary that would fund a trip to record interviews with two of the participants in the documentary, which is titled ‘Dispersing the Problem: Immigrant Children in Huddersfield, 1964-1975’. The interviewees, Jo and Kalsoom, both now live in the South of England, but had, as young children, experienced bussing in my university’s town. Their testimonies were vital to my research and documentary. Collecting their perspectives meant that I would have useful range of participants in the study with different ethnic and gender identities.

Several days before getting confirmation from the SSLH that I would receive the funding, Jo informed me of a last-minute visit to Huddersfield and that she would have time, and a suitable location, for us to film her interview. I thought it would be wise to take the opportunity, as my funding had yet to be officially granted. However, when the confirmation email came through several days later, and I wrote back to explain what had happened. Thankfully, the SSLH were still happy to fund the cheaper trip to Bristol to film Kalsoom’s interview. They also kindly allowed the remaining funds that they had awarded to be used in some other way during the production of the film. This was a big relief as even though her part of the story was brief, Kalsoom’s testimony was important to the narrative of the documentary, and provided useful evidence in the dissertation. Kalsoom was bussed to a reception centre despite being fluent in English. This is indicative of the way that assumptions were constantly being made about immigrants and their children. Following the acceptance of my bursary application, the filming of Kalsoom’s interview was successfully completed, and the remaining funds were used to hire a professional to colour grade and sound mix the film.

Images of interviewee Kalsoom taken from the documentary film.
Images of interviewee Kalsoom taken from the documentary film.

First, it should be noted that neither of these images looks particularly well defined as they are both taken from compressed versions of the documentary film. However, in the top image you can see how weather changes during the filming made half the footage of her interview appear shadowed. In the second shot the editor has made it brighter to match footage of Kalsoom before the light changed. They also subtly altered the colouring of the image to match that background colour tones in the rest of the interviews, and mirrored the shot so that Kalsoom appears sat on the left of the frame. This gave the interviews coherence and made everything a little more interesting when swapping between the interviewees, as opposed to having them all sat on the same side of the frame.

Find out more about SSLH bursary schemes.