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Tassaduq Ahmed MBE Tassaduq Ahmed

Britain's Ellis Island' Requires Urgent Funding

The article as it appeared on the website

An 18th-century house described as "Britain's Ellis Island" will be open to the public this weekend as part of London's multicultural Brick Lane Festival.

19 Princelet Street in Spitalfields, a registered charity, is Europe's first and only museum of immigration and diversity.

Built in 1719, the grade II* listed building houses an acclaimed exhibition telling of the diverse peoples and cultures who have helped create British society.

However, 3 million is desperately needed to refurbish the historic structure and open the exhibition full-time.

Volunteer Philip Black, said: "The building is of international importance and has proved enormously popular when opened to the public. And despite the structure being on the buildings at risk register, for the last 20 years the charity's board has been striving to allow the exhibition to open full-time.

"At present, the building is only open for events such as this weekend's upcoming Brick Lane Festival."

The Princelet Street project - officially the Spitalfields Centre Charity - is based on the house itself. It was built by the Ogier family, Huguenot silk weavers who had fled persecution in France.

The Ogiers eventually moved west to smarter streets and the house was sub-divided into lodgings and workshops. The attic windows were altered to give more light to a growing band of weavers, and other trades moved in below :carvers, gilders, an industrial school.

Then the Irish, and later Jewish emigrants from Eastern Europe arrived, who used part of the house as the HQ of the Loyal United Friends Friendly Society, a self-help immigrant group.

In 1869 a synagogue and a meeting place was built in the garden where, a century on, incoming Caribbean, Somali, Bengali and other modern immigrants made their mark.

After a visit, respected peer Lord Desai described the building as "our Ellis Island".

Today, 19 Princelet Street is home to "Suitcases and Sanctuary" an exhibition which tells of the experiences of centuries of incomers - including Asian, Caribbean, Jewish, Irish, Huguenot and other immigrants who have helped shape Spitalfields, London and Britain.

The exhibition, created from poetry and prose written by local primary school children working in tandem with artists, photographers and historians, explores stories displacement over the centuries.

The building will be open this Sunday as part of the Brick Lane Festival, noon-5pm. To find out more about the building and the charity, or to make a donation, see website www.19princeletstreet.org.uk or contact 0207 247 5352.