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Bateel Skycraper


Scottish Salesman

Scottish Salesman

Issue 79 April 2011

The Governor of the Bank of England has called upon employers to show moral responsibility. Nazir Ahmed came from Pakistan in 1957 and did just that in the town of Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, where he became a successful businessman.


I was born in the Punjab region of India in 1937. We lived there until I was 10, after which we migrated to Pakistan. My parents owned some farmland, and we were a family of six brothers and sisters.

 I left college in 1956, and decided to move to the UK the year after. I was the only one from my family to leave the country, but had the support of my parents. We had an uncle living in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, so I made arrangements to go and live with him.

 At the time, Pakistan was a very young country and there wasn’t any real prospect of jobs. The UK was the only port open to Pakistani people at the time, and it was a case of just turning up with a passport. My journey was interesting, as it was the first time that I had seen a plane, let alone flown on one.

 I arrived in Glasgow, but my initial impressions were that it was a dirty, dark city. I stayed there for three days, and then made my way to Stornoway.

 My uncle had been in Scotland since after the First World War. He originally sold goods in Glasgow, but heard that he could earn more if he moved out to one of the islands. He settled in Stornoway and had two shops; one sold drapery, the other sold confectionary and groceries. 

 I moved in with my uncle and started peddling, which involved selling clothes door-to-door. It was a very different environment from Pakistan. Everything from the weather to the dress sense was nothing like I had experienced. The people on the island were very welcoming, so I instantly felt at home.

 Stornoway was a very quiet place, so I would spend a lot of time with my uncle and his family. On Sundays, nobody worked so all the Pakistanis on the island would meet up to play cards. We would also go to the cinema from time to time.

 After three years of peddling, I bought a shop. Selling door-to-door limits the number of people that you can reach, and I definitely felt I could make more money with a shop. We sold clothes and confectionary, which was a strange combination. Thankfully, we had found a winning formula, as our shop was busy most of the time. I had built up a strong relationship with my customers through peddling, so many of them would now frequent the shop.

 The first time I went back to Pakistan was in 1964 to get married. When my wife arrived in Stornoway, she hated it. She would call it kala pani, meaning black water. She was also used to living in a big house in Pakistan, so the size of my small flat clearly wasn’t up to her standards. Eventually, she got used to living there. We have two children, Shahad born in 1965, and Omer born in 1967. They went to school 50 yards from our house, and were very well integrated and respected within the local community.

 After our first shop became a success, we decided to expand and purchase more properties. In 1981, we bought the biggest shop on the island, and knocked down the original building to rebuild it as a multi-storey shop. We had a food cash and carry, which meant we could sell to the trade as well as local consumers. We also acquired a farmhouse with land.

 Throughout our whole time in Stornoway, we were very fortunate never to be discriminated against, or suffer any racial abuse. We didn’t build any cultural or language barriers and we were very open with everyone on the island. We would go to the weddings and funerals of the local residents, and they would come to ours. The number of customers that came to our shop, and the business success that I enjoyed, was testament to the fact that we were an integral part of the local society.

 There were about 50 Muslims living in the area, and we didn’t feel it was enough to build a mosque so we would meet for religious gatherings at each other’s houses. Eid was always spent at our house, where we would spend pretty much the whole day just eating.

 With Stornoway being such a remote location, it was quite hard to come across halal meat. So when I was peddling, I would purchase live chickens from the farmers and slaughter them myself. The people at the slaughterhouse were very receptive to our needs, and would let us kill sheep and cows in our own way. I would then distribute the meat amongst the Muslims on the island.

 By 1998, we had ten shops across the island. We sold a range of stuff, from the original choices of clothes and confectionary, to hardware, furniture, carpets and gardening equipment. Having reached the heights of business in Stornoway, I made a decision to retire, but we still had around 50 staff working for us. We were conscious that as some of them were elderly they may not be able to get work elsewhere. We decided to open another store on the island, so that they had somewhere to continue working for a few years. We actually lost money on that venture, but we felt it was our duty to the staff that had worked for us for so many years.

 We moved to the Newton Mearns area of Glasgow, and have lived there since. I spend a lot of my time exercising, as it’s very important to keep in shape during old age. I also look after my grandchildren when they come home from school, until their parents finish work.

 When people first came to this country, they just wanted to make money, before going back and living a comfortable life. However, a lot of us ended up staying. The main reason was the children; they’ve grown up here and see it as their home. Throughout my whole life, I’ve never seen anyone go back to settle in Pakistan without any issues. I certainly never had that intention, as I didn’t want to undo all my years of hard work.

 At heart, I’m a Pakistani but I also consider myself British because I’ve spent most of my life living here. This country has provided all my needs, and has never been unfair to me. I do consider myself very fortunate not to have encountered any major difficulties during my residence here, and I am definitely thankful of having enjoyed a successful business career and raising a family.

 I’ve never had any regrets choosing to live here either. Even if I didn’t like it when I first arrived, it didn’t feel like I was imprisoned here and could have left at anytime to settle elsewhere. However, I made the conscious decision to stay and have never looked back.

 After enjoying a very successful business career, I am testimony to the fact that hard work truly pays off. Many people are just trying to make a quick buck, but this will not work in the end. I’ve tried to instill these values in my children; they should do something that they enjoy, and should always do it to the best of their ability.

 One of the greatest things about living in an open society like Britain is that we learn more about other cultures. It opens our minds to the wonders of other communities. Unfortunately, the society that I grew up in Pakistan was very closed. My hope is that one day we can go back there and share the wealth of knowledge that we have picked up from this country.

Nazir with his wife and son, Omer

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