Celebrating the Women of Chinatown London this International Women’s Day
In celebration of International Women’s Day
With a bold, entrepreneurial spirit and unshakeable dedication to their community, these inspirational women have shaped the face of Chinatown London as we know it today. Meet these incredible pillars of the community as they share their stories.
Freya Aitken-Turff, CEO – China Exchange
From a childhood curiosity of China to a lifelong passion, Freya spotted the CEO job at the newly founded China Exchange – located in the heart of Chinatown. Five years later, she has built the charitable organisation from scratch, running programmes aimed at engaging the public with both the UK’s Chinese heritage, and China in its contemporary context. A few years ago, she won a travel and research grant to study how Chinatowns around the world have changed. “I came back with a strong sense of purpose that surprised me.” Citing an urgent need to document and articulate Chinatown’s history, she devised the now popular volunteer-led Chinatown Stories walks, and spearheaded ‘The Making of Chinatown’, an oral history project that is now going on tour.
Christine Yau MBE – Chinese Community Centre Chairman
Chinatown and the Chinese Community Centre wouldn’t be the place it is today without Christine Yau. A woman whose determination and passion for her community has shaped it immeasurably – and won her countless awards. Arriving from Hong Kong to London in 1985 and faced with feeling like an outsider, she threw herself into integrating. “I found it difficult to get into my own community,” she explains, “so I started to get involved by becoming a volunteer at the Chinese Community Centre. Then I got to speak to people and the local community got to know me more.”
Christine’s inspirational commitment to her community has won her armfuls of awards. For outstanding contribution to life in London, she received the Metropolitan Police Volunteer Award in Westminster and PAN London from the Mayor of London in 2003 and in 2014 received an M.B.E. at Buckingham Palace in recognition for her community work.
Ellen, General Manager – Leong’s Legend
Ellen moved to London thirty years ago as a qualified accountant from Taipei, looking to study English. She would go to school in the morning, work a part time job in the afternoon and do evening shifts at a restaurant to support her living. Now Ellen gets up at 7.30am everyday. She takes her daughter to school and then goes to the gym for a couple of hours before heading into Chinatown. She doesn’t leave Leong’s until final service and gets home after midnight. But she has no complaints: “It’s better to be busy. Boss is happy and we get good wages.”
Lucy Mitchell, Managing Director – See Woo
Opening in one small unit on Lisle Street over 40 years ago, and expanding to four entire units over the years, See Woo supplies almost all of Chinatown London’s restaurants and is an important and vibrant cultural hub at the heart of Chinatown. Lucy organises and oversees all activities at See Woo, which now operates a network of distribution centres and retail stores across the UK. Lucy spreads her knowledge and experiences far and wide – she is also the co-founder of the Golden Chopsticks Awards, celebrating the best far East Asian cuisine, businesses, chefs and restauranteurs in the UK.
Ellen Chew – Restaurateur
Ellen faced a lot of challenges when moving to Chinatown London to set up a business, she didn’t know anyone in the community at all. Against all odds, restaurateur Ellen Chow moved to London and founded one of Chinatown’s most beloved restaurants, Rasa Sayang in 2009. “Most of the businesses here are run by men so it took me a while to put myself out there and be part of the industry,”And the secret of her success? “My mother is my biggest inspiration, she taught me it doesn’t matter what gender you are, you can do things in life, with positivity and perseverance. International Women’s Day is important to me because it’s a day that raises awareness and importance of equality and love.”
To learn more about the people who make up Chinatown, follow our Humans of Chinatown London portrait series on Instagram. Share your stories using #HumansofChinatownLondon
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