Cotton, Curry And Commerce

A History of Asian Businesses In Oldham

Cotton Curry & Commerce is a history of Asian Businesses in Oldham -
a book and history project spanning 3 generations, made possible by the Lottery Heritage Fund

The Project

‘Cotton, Curry and Commerce’ is the culmination of a two year Heritage Lottery Funded project celebrating the contribution made by the Oldham Asian Business Association (ABA) and Asian businesses to the economic life of Oldham. The project was the result of a partnership between the Oldham Asian Business Association and Oldham Local Studies and Archives supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Oldham Business Leaders Group (OBLG).


The Asian Business Association was founded in 1998 to provide advice and assistance to local entrepreneurs starting and running their own businesses. The ABA provided access to training and qualifications, and from 2001 instituted the annual business awards and dinners. With the take-up of main stream services by the Asian business community, and a consequent diminishing need for their specialist service, the Asian Business Association decided to dissolve its activities in 2011. However, keen to ensure the survival of its archives and its legacy to the history of Oldham, the ABA decided to embark on the project that became ‘Cotton, Curry and Commerce’.

Aims of the Project

The ‘Cotton, Curry and Commerce’ project aimed to collect memories, reminiscences and archives from the Asian business community in order to create a unique resource for the exploration of the history and development of Asian business in Oldham. These resources were then used to publish a book celebrating the achievements of Asian entrepreneurs in Oldham, and the contribution of Asian businesses to the economy of Oldham.

The Book

‘Cotton, Curry and Commerce’ charts the history of Asian businesses in Oldham from the 1960s onwards using material from the Asian Business Association archive and over 20 interviews with members of the Asian business community. The book aims to celebrate the achievements of Asian migrant pioneers of the 1960s and subsequent generations. 

This new breed of entrepreneur helped diversify Oldham’s economic base by moving into the catering, retail, and professional services; helped create vibrant night-time and digital industry sectors; and produced Oldham’s most successful businessman of modern times in frozen food tycoon, Iqbal Ahmed.

The story of ‘Cotton, Curry & Commerce’ is told through a collection of case studies which record the rise of an energetic and entrepreneurial spirit which has helped to reinvigorate business activity in Oldham.

Oral Histories

The project collected 22 oral history recordings from members of the Asian business community, migrant pioneers, subsequent generations of Asian entrepreneurs, business leaders and politicians active in Oldham to explore 50 years of change from the 1960s onwards. These recordings which form an invaluable are available for use at Oldham Local Studies and Archives

The Archives

The archives of the Asian Business Association (catalogue reference M166), the oral history recordings (catalogue reference M185), and the book are available at Oldham Local Studies and Archives