CULTURE: They came to work in the brickyards and stayed to build our 'Little Italy'

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WHEN it comes to taking a pride in their involvement in the city, the Italian community is leading the field.

WHEN it comes to taking a pride in their involvement in the city, the Italian community is leading the field.WHEN it comes to taking a pride in their involvement in the city, the Italian community is leading the field. HANNAH DAVIES reports on how a new exhibition is celebrating more than 50 years of ''Little Italy'' in the heart of Peterborough.

FROM the delicatessen to the large industrialist, and the travel agent to the hairdresser - you name it, the Italians are doing it.

Today, the city's Italian community is fully integrated and represented in every walk of life - yet still manages to retain a sense of culture, tradition and love of their homeland. And it is this sense of Italianism, understanding of their roots, and sense of family, which has led to such a strong and successful community in Peterborough.

Now, in celebration of their time in the city, they have put together a snapshot of their past, and are proudly displaying it for all to see. The collection of more than 100 photographs is being exhibited at Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery, in Priestgate, and tells the history of the Italians in the city from 1951 to 2001.

Entitled Aliens Order - after the Government immigration papers issued to the original Italian migrant workers who came to Peterborough 50 years ago - organisers are hopeful that it may serve to help those who were not there to understand, and give those who were a part of it the chance to re-live the memories.

The story began when large numbers of Italian men arrived in Peterborough after Britain had won the war, but faced immense problems dealing with peace and rebuilding the country. The new immigrants mostly found work in the rejuvenated brickyards, where there was a labour shortage following the ravages of fighting the war.

The work at the Fletton-based London Brick kilns was tough, and conditions were not the best. Italian employees lived in former prisoner of war camps, and in barracks and hostels belonging to the company.

It wasn't long before 2,000 Italian women followed. Some worked alongside the men at London Brick, and others took jobs in various sectors, including clothing, rubber, ceramic, food processing, agriculture and the NHS.

Despite the hardships, many stayed and settled down in Peterborough, and, as a result, the community quickly flourished.

There are now 6,000 Italians living in the city, and a total of 8,000 within Peterborough and the surrounding district most of whom have roots in the regions of Puglia, Campania, Sicilia, Calabria, Molise and Lazio.

The city also has two Italian churches St Joseph's and St Anthony's and the community is fortunate to have its own social complex, The Fleet, in Fletton.

With such a strong presence in the city, and a rich history to look back on, it's not surprising that businessman Marco Cereste wanted to create the special exhibition that could be enjoyed by everyone.

He said: "I am over the moon about this exhibition for the Italian community and for Peterborough. It was particularly important for us to be able to capture some of the history since we came to Peterborough. Now it is here for our children and their children, and for the children of the future.

"We have been here with our families for many years and believe we have been part of the community and made a huge contribution."

The photographs, which belong to members of the Italian community, have struck a chord with Italians of all ages. Among them is city travel agent Daniele Broccoli (36), son of Carlo Broccoli a Romagnolo from Emilia Romagna, in Italy.

Carlo came to work in Peterborough at London Brick, and then went to work with British Railways. In 1952 he was joined by his wife, Edmonda, also from Romagna, and six years later Carlo started his own business the Italian Shop, in Fletton High Street.

Now Carlo owns Britaly Travel, in London Road, Fletton, and works there with his son, Daniele.

Today, Daniele said: "I will definitely be going to have a look at the photos and will take my children as well, because I want them to know their roots. It's very good to have something like this, because our Italian gene is being diluted over time and I don't think it would be good for us to forget where we came from. I consider myself to be half English and half Italian I queue nicely, but am very loud.

"The funny thing is when I go back to Italy I am known as 'the English man', but over here people call me Italian."

City entrepreneur Rinaldo Fasulo, who came to Peterborough at the age of three, is full of praise for the exhibition. His father, 75-year-old Nicholas, was among the first to work in the brickyards, and Rinaldo is hoping they will be able to look at the images together.

He said: "My dad first came over from Italy about 50 years ago and, after getting a job at London Brick, sent for me and the rest of the family. The exhibition will bring back memories for me and my father. It is nice to have it as a record of our past."

Pep Cipriano (28), head of media for Peterborough United, will also make a special effort to get to the museum. His mum came to Peterborough at the age of 10, in 1961, and his dad arrived in 1968, aged 18, to start work at London Brick.

Pep said: "I love this sort of thing and am very proud of my Italian family. I love the way Italians always make an effort to look good, and I'm sure the pictures will reflect that.

"The exhibition is something that should have been done a long time ago. I am hoping that I will be able to recognise friends and family in the photographs. I'm sure there will be someone I know."

Andrew Stainton-Roberts, museum community heritage officer, who helped organise the exhibition with the Italian community, is delighted that it is proving so popular.

He said: "We are very pleased to be hosting this exhibition on behalf of the Italian community in the city. This is a wonderful project, which will be of great value and interest. The Italians are our biggest minority group, so it was very important to them to get this together.

"So far, it is proving really popular, and visitors are coming in all the time, many of whom are young Italians wanting to find out more about their heritage. This is a record for the Italian community, and also something which can be looked at by Peterborough people to find out more about why the Italians are here today."

>> The exhibition is running at the museum until Sunday, October 27. People can visit from Tuesday to Friday, from noon to 5pm, Saturday, from 10am to 5pm, and Sunday, from noon to 4pm. Admission is free. To find out more, telephone the museum on 01733 343329.