Showcase – Parallel Lives by David Shaw

David Shaw was one of two photographers awarded Highly Commended in the 2016 Rebecca Vassie Memorial Award. David’s excellent photobook Oh When The Blues, about the community around Oldham Athletic football club, is available now.

Parallel Lives

Fifteen years after the infamous Oldham riots, the Brexit vote exposed a cultural divide in Britain. The residents of Oldham, however, have known this divide for decades.

Oldham, a post-industrial town near Manchester, was named ‘Britain’s most deprived town’ in 2016. Living in parallel to the majority British-working-class population is a large community of Asian and British-Asian people whose descendants came to work in Oldham’s once-thriving cotton mills.

This community, of predominantly Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage, emigrated to Oldham in the 1960s after a nationwide recruitment drive for cotton mill workers. They moved to, or were placed in, the same areas as existing family and friends. Over time, this led to residential districts in Oldham becoming home exclusively to a single ethnic groups, making integration between communities difficult. Today, the cotton mills have closed – but the closed communities remain.

Exploring the concept of the ‘Parallel Lives’ that emerged after the 2001 riots, in a city where two communities live side-by-side but separately, these images tell the story of contemporary Oldham and the people who are promoting integration through the actions they take in their daily lives.

– David Shaw, 2017



Oldham was once the cotton capital of the world and had a strong economy. Now, the mills are shut, leaving the town with few jobs but a large and divided population. They sit as a reminder of Oldham’s more prosperous time.


Juel, a budding sports photographer, poses for a portrait in his new England shirt at home.


Keith Head, who is long term unemployed after battling alcoholism and mental health issues.


Najma Khalid is a single mother who battled unemployment during parenthood. She worked out what government support was available to her, and now uses her experience to help local Asian women who struggle with similar issues.


Keith Head with his ex-wife Rookie. He married Rookie, an Asian woman, around the time of the Oldham Riots, despite how taboo and rare this was at the time. He lives in the Oldham borough of Chadderton, right on the border between ‘Asian’ and ‘White’ areas.



An Oldham Athletic supporter sings whilst holding the St George’s Cross, the English Flag. National identity is very important amongst Oldham residents and the team’s supporters.


Many local Asian people talk of an identity crisis: they feel British, due to being born and living their lives in the UK; however they still live in closed Pakistani or Bangladeshi communities – both physically in the town as well as socially.


Keith Head, an Oldham local, shows his tattoos. People from all cultural groups in Oldham share the identity of their post-industrial town despite their ethnic status.


Local British-Asian men before Friday prayers in the Westwood area of Oldham, a predominately Asian area.


Demographically the town is made up of 75% White British and 17% Asian or Asian descendant.


Local Oldham Muslims at a market. All are part of Najma’s Chai group. The group partake in many different cross-cultural activities in Oldham and the surrounding areas as well creating a supportive atmosphere amongst the women.


The Imam of the Jamie Masjid reads Islamic prayers at the mosque in Westwood, Oldham. 7.6% of Oldham’s population identify as Muslim.

Wedding attedees in the Springfield pub in Chadderton.

Wedding attedees in the Springfield pub in Chadderton.


Local Muslims on a march through Oldham to celebrate the birthday of Prophet Muhammed.


Deputy Mayor Shadab Qumer attends the 2016 Remembrance Sunday service in Oldham’s town centre.


Glodwick, a large area, home to Oldham’s largest Pakistani and Bangladeshi community.



Oldham’s town centre is not as visibly divided – people from all communities use its services.

David Shaw is a photographer and journalist from the UK who works on long-term projects related to human rights and community issues. Through photography, documentary film and writing, Shaw aims to provide a space for people and places to tell their stories with the goal of connecting people across cultures. 
View All

One Comment

  1. […] Two further applications were highly commended: Dan Burwood for a proposal exploring the complex status of ‘Zambrano’ families, where a single parent born outside the EU has sole responsibility for a child who is a UK citizen; and Kate Stanworth for a proposal following the ‘murga’ street dancers in Argentina. Mackay, Burwood and Stanworth receive membership of Shutter Hub, the online photography network. Also shortlisted from more than 60 applicants were Hugh Kinsella Cunningham, Alis Pelleschi and David Shaw. […]

Comments are closed.