Beds, Herts & Bucks

Little Italy festival returns to Bedford to revive 'diluted heritage'

Italian eating lunch in a brickworks canteen Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Italian workers eat lunch in the canteen of the Marston Valley Brickworks in the 1950s

A Little Italy Festival has been revived to stop the "dilution" of a town's Mediterranean heritage.

Bedford became known as "Little Italy" after thousands of Italians moved to the town from the 1950s, primarily to work in the brickworks industry.

Alfonso Bravoco, one of the festival organisers, said he did not want the 14,000 descendants of those immigrants to forget their past.

He said the festival must "show off our diversity".

Image copyright Bedford Italian Festival committee
Image caption TV chef Gino D'Acampo entertained the crowds at the last Bedford Italian Festival in 2011
Image copyright Ciro Ciampi
Image caption Umberto and Ines Zanna came to the Bedford area in 1951 from Caserta in Campania, southern Italy

Ciro Ciampi, a founding organiser of the Bedford Italian Festival in 2009 and 2011, said the event was "very close to my heart and a personal celebration of my nonno [grandfather] Umberto Zanna".

He said Mr Zanna arrived in Bedford in 1951 from Caserta in the Campania region of southern Italy to work at the Stewartby London Brickworks.

"His story of risk, sacrifice and hard labour is shared throughout the Bedford Italian community," said Mr Ciampi.

"We have over 14,000 Bedfordians tracing their roots [to Italian immigrants] over four generations."

Image copyright Alfonso Bravoco
Image caption Concetta Bravoco, also known as Mamma Concetta, moved from Italy in 1956 to work in London

Mr Bravoco runs Mamma Concetta restaurant, which is named after his mother Concetta who came to London in 1956 from Flumeri, Campania.

"Bedford is Little Italy," he said.

"Over the past few years we have slightly diluted our heritage with the younger generation, so we do not want them to forget where they came from.

"Thirty percent of the town's community is not from England" so the event is also to "share and show off our diversity", he said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption An Italian working in the UK brickworks industry in 1955

Bedford tour guide David Fowler said: "The major migration came after World War Two when there was a shortage of labour in the brickfields, to the extent that the town had the only Italian Vice Consul outside London.

"The Italians led the way to Bedford becoming the diverse community it is today."

The festival, organised by SpectaculArts Foundation, takes place around Harpur Square, starting at noon on Sunday.

It will include food, music and a display of Italian cars.

Image copyright Bedford Italian Festival committee
Image caption Hundreds turned out for the Bedford Italian Festival in the town centre in 2009

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