Len Williams

Freelance Writer

Author: len123456789

7 reliable data sources to find stats for your content

Using statistics and data is an effective way of summarising your arguments and shows readers that your article is backed up by research. From an SEO perspective they’re useful too – if you’re linking to sources of data, that tells search engines more about your niche and industry and can help your page rank higher. But how do you go about finding reliable data sources?

People are increasingly discerning about what they read online and that means that content writers need to be more discerning about the sources of data they use too. You can Google any topic and find a statistic to back up almost any argument. However, if those data sources are questionable (i.e. a biased survey with a tiny sample), then readers are relatively likely to question the trustworthiness of what you’re saying.

It’s therefore worth searching a little harder for reliable data sources from trusted organisations. Here are seven examples of where you can get this data.

7 reliable data sources for content writers

I regularly use the following sources when searching for facts and figures to use when writing content for my clients. You may not always find the data you’re looking for on the following websites – but search for similar organisations and you might just find the numbers you’re looking for.

1. For international development, GDP and indsutry

If you’re ever looking for data about countries, economic conditions or industry, the World Bank is an excellent and reliable data source. They collate and verify statistics from government agencies in countries right across the world as well as conducting their own surveys and rankings.

The World Bank has a number of data sites. If you’re looking for the broadest data sets, head over to World Bank Open Data – it can be a bit of a fiddle to use, but does throw up some really fascinating stuff on development and GDP. Another handy World Bank data set is their Ease of Doing Business rankings, where you can compare countries along measures such as how many days it takes to set a company up or rates of taxation.

Another option is the IMF who also have datasets (and a clunky website).

2. For markets and industries

Want to know how much broadcasters pay to distribute the NFL or the number of smartphones sold worldwide last year? There’s a decent chance Statista will have the numbers. It’s worth saying that a lot of their data is behind a paywall, but many statistics are freely available and they collate an extraordinary amount of data on a huge range of topics related to businesses and markets.

3. Facts and figures about countries

Writing a piece on Botswana’s GDP or Panama’s industry? The CIA’s World Factbook is a decent place to look. You can find all sorts of information about countries, from the number of kilometres of surfaced roads in the place to the amount of electricity they generate.

4. Public opinion

What do people think of Boris Johnson? How do British people use cheese graters? Do people care about buying antique ivory?

YouGov is a major public opinion polling company who make large amounts of their own data available for free online. The surveys cover all sorts of things, and it’s a good place to start if you’re looking for more ‘fun’ statistics. Gallup, another major polling company is a good alternative.

More tips: How to find expert sources to quote for your articles

5. National data portals

Looking for data on specific sectors of the economy, demographics, health figures or financial data? Many national governments provide large amounts of data for free through open data portals.

If you’re looking for figures from the UK, the UK Data Service is a good place to start (you can also check out the Office for National Statistics, and there are a few other websites for specific government departments where you can find facts and figures on things like health, labour, environmental protection and so on).

Outside the UK, the EU’s Open Data Portal is pretty good, while the USA’s Data.gov website is another reliable data source.

6. Statistics from trusted companies

We’ve all come across “remarkable survey findings” which by incredible chance promote the products of the firm that designed the survey. As a consequence, people are naturally sceptical of this kind of data. All the same, there are several companies who have a reputation for providing trustworthy statistics. These include the big consultancies (PwC, McKinsey, Deloitte, KPMG, EY) as well as analyst houses (EIU, Forrester, IDC and so on).

As far as I know, none of them have a go-to open data platform, so you have to visit the websites of each and look up their surveys and research. It can be a bit slow, but you’ll likely find some really interesting data.

7. Google

Last but not least, the world’s leading search engine also offers a couple of interesting data tools. Google’s new-ish Dataset Search tool throws up some interesting results and is an attempt to compile data from a very wide range of sources online.

I also turn to Google Trends if I’m looking to see what’s popular in the world of search. Want to see which celebrities are getting attention right now, or how much people have searched for a specific term over the years? Google Trends will tell you.

Facts and figures

If you need to produce content that is supported by thorough research, I can help. I’ve worked as a researcher on academic and European Commission projects, written articles for the likes of the BBC and Reuters and have worked with some of the world’s leading brands and consultancies to produce content their readers can trust.

Contact me today about your project.

5 ways to find expert sources to quote for your articles

When writing articles for your publication, including quotes from an expert source can really lift the piece. Expert sources provide insight, context and depth to your article, and they also add weight, making it feel more authoritative and balanced.

However, finding an expert source can be a challenge – especially if you’re on a tight deadline. Here are five methods I use to find academic and industry experts to provide quotes for any kind of article.

5 ways to find expert sources for your articles

Want to avoid spending hours on Google searching around your topic to try and find someone to quote? The following methods are a much more effective way of locating expert sources fast.

1. The Conversation’s Expert Finder

The Conversation is a website where academics can write articles about their research as well as comment on news and events. To write for The Conversation, you must be an academic and an expert in your field. The good news for journalists, PR and communications professionals is that they have an expert finder where you can search by keywords to find sources on practically any topic.

2. Twitter

Twitter is a go-to place for professionals and academics who are promoting their work or interests. Twitter’s keyword search can be useful for finding people who have an opinion on a topic – although you have to be picky about the kind of people who show up in your search results and verify that they are genuine experts (look them up on LinkedIn, their university website or company page too).

3. Your personal and professional network

Your personal and professional network can be a fantastic way of finding expert sources for articles. I, for instance, have a friend who works in psychological research – on more than one occasion I’ve asked her if she knows of anyone in her field who can help on articles. Similarly, a source I quoted for an article I wrote on the future of the electricity grid was a friend’s parents.

You might find it useful to put out a call on social media platforms – “do I know anyone who is an expert on…” or message people directly.

4. Management consultancies and analyst houses

Management consultancies are another excellent source for experts if you’re in a hurry and need a quote. I’ve often turned to the Economist Intelligence Unit when in need of analysis of industry, especially at a global scale (they usually respond fast!).

You could start your search with some of the big name consultancies (think Deloitte, KPMG, PwC etc.) – call up their press officers and they may be able to find someone. That said, I tend to find these firms are almost too big and it can take ages to get a response, so you might want to search for analysts and consultancies that work in specific fields.

5. The ‘find an expert’ page on university websites

Universities all want to ‘up’ the profiles of their academics and promote their research, so any form of press coverage is usually welcome. To help do this, many universities have created their own expert source databases you can use to hunt down someone in the know.

Simply plug something like “university find an expert” into Google, and you’ll see lots of UK and international universities have set up pages to let you do just this.

How do you find expert sources for articles? Let me know in the comments below.

If you’ve got a deadline and need content backed up with rigorous research, I can help. Contact me today.

How to write a blog intro – 7 useful hooks for business blogging

You have done the research into your topic. You have ordered your points into a logical structure. And you have a good idea of how will end your blog. But you’ve run into an obstacle – how are you going to start writing the thing? 

Many people find writing an introduction one of the hardest parts of producing content. A less-than-compelling introduction can immediately turn readers off and means they may not read the rest of what you have to say. And that means all the effort you put into producing corporate blogs goes to waste! 

The good news is that there are plenty of easy writers’ tricks to get your blog going. So, let’s look at how to write a blog intro – I have put together several kinds of hooks that writers use all the time to draw readers in. I’ve also provided examples of how they might be used in different industries.  

7 tips on how to write a blog intro 

The following seven methods can be applied in any industry or medium – you just need to tailor them to your subject. So, here are my tips on how to write a blog intro with examples from different kinds of business: 

1. Set the scene 

Setting the scene can be a very useful way of starting an article. Describe a particular scenario or event which relates to your topic. This gets the reader immediately interested as they start imagining the scene unfold. I recently used just this technique when describing the experience of eating plant-based meat for a finance publication.  

Example of how to write a blog intro for an accountancy business: 

“Sweat is rolling down your brow. Your heart is palpitating. Your palms are moist. Why? It’s time to file your VAT return and you can’t seem to find all of your receipts.” 

2. Ask the reader to imagine something

Tell the reader to picture a memory, image or hypothetical scenario which leads into the rest of your article. Again, this method gets the mind working and the reader will be unlikely to walk away! I used this technique a couple of years ago to describe the notion of a 6-hour workday

Example of how to write a blog intro for an IT support company: 

“Imagine you come into the office one morning to discover none of your computers will turn on.” 

3. Ask a question

Do you know why it’s impossible to ignore a question? Ask someone a question and they’ll almost always feel the need to find out the answer – it’s like a mental itch that won’t disappear until it’s ‘scratched’. Here’s how I used this technique in a blog last year.  

Example of how to write a blog intro for a food business: 

“Do you know how long you can leave cooked meat in the fridge?” 

Woman looking ponderous

4. Hit them with an amazing fact or figure

Extraordinary facts or huge figures are a great way of getting a reader interested. Can you tell them something that surprises, amazes, shocks or scares them? Incredible facts and figures open people’s eyes – and they’ll inevitably want to read on and find out more. I did this in an engineering magazine article, showing how cement is humanity’s most-produced item.  

Example of how to write a blog intro for a higher education institute: 

“By the end of 2019, more than 20% of the world’s population will have completed a degree of some kind” (I just made this number up for illustrative purposes!). 

5. Find a powerful quote

Using quotes can be an effective way of starting a blog, although do so with care – you don’t want to come across as cliched. Readers might also find it a bit distasteful if you use a quote from Gandhi to sell them some product or another! 

Ideally it would be a quote from someone at your organisation, a person you interviewed or from one of your customers. I recently wrote a piece about fintech which began with a quote from one of my interviewees that encapsulated the topic at hand.  

Example of how to write a blog intro for a waste treatment business: 

“’It makes me sick to see how much rubbish I produce’ said Mary Jones, a local teacher, shocked by the annual waste measurement system at our Exeter facility”.  

6. Address the problem directly

It’s not necessarily the most imaginative approach, but addressing your customer’s problem directly gets you right to the heart of the matter fast. Seeing their problem described will make the reader feel that you empathise with them and there’s a good chance they will decide to read on. Here’s an example from my blog of just this approach – if a little jazzed up.  

Example of how to write a blog intro for a physiotherapist: 

“Lower back pain can ruin your day and leave you feeling miserable. The good news is that there are tons of things you can do to manage it”.  

7. Describe a trend

People are constantly seeking out new information about the world around them. If you can describe an interesting new trend or technology, most people will want to learn more so that they feel informed. I used this approach for a BBC article about a new form of public transport. 

Example of how to write a blog intro for an import/export services business: 

“Import/export businesses are finally catching up with the digital revolution. Over the past year, we’ve noticed ever more customers using mobile apps to manage shipping and logistics…” 

Knowing how to write a compelling blog intro is essential if you want to keep people reading your content and learning more about your company. By using some of the techniques described above, you can hook your audience in and keep them reading till the end! 

I help companies like yours write blogs and other content. Contact me today to talk about your content marketing strategy.  

Five things journalists want from your press release

So, your business has something exciting you want the world to know about? Writing a press release can be a great way of getting free publicity – being mentioned in a national newspaper, television segment or trade publication can spread the word about what you’re doing.

However, with so many companies pumping out press releases every day, very few journalists have the time or inclination to read everything that lands in their inboxes. So, how can you write a press release that journalists will read and run with?

Remember who you’re writing for

Any kind of professional writing requires you to have a laser focus on your reader and what they expect from your content. This is especially true with press releases.

You are writing for reporters – people who themselves write for an audience. Your press releases therefore need to give the journalist exactly what they want: something that will be interesting or relevant to their readers.

Your reporter is looking for something new and unique. He or she wants to cover stories that the publication’s competitors might have missed. They are also trying to impress their editor with the great quality, interesting stories they seem able to gather.

Your reporter also has tight deadlines. Spend time in a newsroom and you’ll see how little patience there is for dilly-dallying. This means your press release needs to get straight to the point – no hack wants to have to spend ten minutes trying to work out what your press release is all about.

So, how can you write a press release that will get your reporter excited?

journalists stressed press release

5 things journalists want from a press release

Here are five things you can do which will make a journalist more likely to open your press release email:

  1. Be relevant to them and their audience

Before you approach any journalists, make sure your press release is going to be relevant to their audience. If they can’t see why your story would be of interest to their readers, your press release will go straight in the spam box.

Example: Say you company sold flowers and plants to brighten up corporate offices. There’s probably not much chance The Economist is going to run with the story – so don’t waste your time. Search for journalists working at publications aimed at office managers, HR departments or the horticulture industry.

  1. An informative subject line

Your email subject line needs to tell the reporter exactly what they’re going to learn by opening up your message. Avoid any attempts at wordplay or wit – that’s their job. Instead, give them facts and interesting information.

Example: Think about our office plant delivery company again. You might be tempted with a subject line like “planting a tree of happiness in offices since 2012”. But, that would be a mistake. The journalist would have no idea what you do or what’s new in the story. So, a more straight laced but informative subject line should be used. Try: “Fresh plants and flowers now delivered to offices in all UK cities”.

  1. Short, sweet and easy to read

There are plenty of guides describing how to actually write a press release, so I won’t repeat them (but if you need help, contact me!). That said, it’s so important to edit down your press release to the essentials. Journalists do not want to trawl through three pages of copy trying to work out what you do.

Example: Take our plant delivery firm again. It might seem sensible to draft up the press release into a Word or Google doc and attach it in your emails. Unfortunately, very few journalists will have the patience to download the document, open it and read it through. Instead, aim to fit three or four hundred words in the body of the email itself.


The amount of press releases which forget to include quotes is stunning. Every journalist is trained to gather quotes from their sources. So, make it as easy as possible for them by including quotes in your press release.

Example: Our plant delivery firm could easily get a quote from their CEO which supports the story. Try: “when we started out in Leeds six years ago, we never thought we’d be delivering plants outside of the city. But, through the amazing work of our team we’re now delivering wonderful plants across the UK. It’s a dream come true”.

  1. Pictures

Last but by no means least, include pictures with your press release. Whenever I write feature articles, editors are always demanding ultra-high res photos – if they can fill half a page with a striking photo of something extraordinary, this will make them very happy. Any product company can and should get professional photos taken of their new product. It’s a little trickier for firms selling services or less tangible products such as software, but with a bit of imagination you should be able to produce something.

Provide a link to a Dropbox file where the reporter can view the photos too – don’t clog up their servers with heavy messages.

Example: The obvious option for our flower delivery company would be a brand new photo of their delivery vans, stacked full of vibrant plants!

Need help writing a press release? I can help. Get in touch with me today.



How to write an ‘about us’ page which makes people excited about your company

Writing an about us page - image of a company's staff

The ‘about us’ section is normally among the most-visited pages on a company’s website. It’s where people will go if they’re trying to figure out what your company does, where you’re based, what you stand for and who the people are behind the name.

If your company’s ‘about us’ clearly answers the visitor’s questions – and even makes them excited about your company – it’s much more likely their next step will be to click through to your ‘contact us’ page. Bingo!

But here’s the problem. So many ‘about us’ pages are dull, drab and unreadable.

They start something like this: “Corp LLC trades in high value market joint ventures…”.




If your company’s ‘about us’ page is tedious or even unreadable, don’t expect people to be excited about what you do.

I’ve written ‘about us’ pages for global corporations and brand new startups, in industries as diverse as tech, accounting, consulting and plenty more. Here are some things I’ve learnt about writing a great ‘about us’ page.

‘About us’ is really ‘about you’

The title ‘about us’ is a bit of a misnomer. In the majority of cases, your copy should begin by talking about who your company helps. Start by describing the problems that your clients (and potential customers) face.

Say you ran a corporate event planning company called CorpEvents. Here’s a dummy version of how you could begin your ‘about us’ page:

“Your corporate event gives you a unique opportunity to connect with your customers. But preparing for a successful event takes weeks out of your busy schedule…”

Talk about what you believe in

Maybe you only started your business to make loadsa money. But in many cases, the business probably came from some sort of belief about how your company can help improve things. Readers will be impressed by and interested in a company that has a raison d’être. Show people what that is.

Take our corporate even planning company again. After telling the reader who they help, the next step is to explain the reason why they do what they do:

“At CorpEvent, we believe events should not be a one-size fits all. And that’s why we make all our events mirror your company’s unique personality…”

Tell your story

Starting a company is a pretty exciting thing, right? Whether your firm is a month old or 50 years going strong, there’s a huge amount of drama and tension in any company story. This should make for compelling stuff – don’t just write a list of key dates.

  • Did you start when your founder noticed a gap in the market?
  • Did you invent something unique?
  • Did your multi-million-pound business idea start from a chat in the pub?

This is all exciting stuff which readers will find fascinating. Don’t let the chance go to waste.

Let’s look again at how the fictional CorpEvent might start telling their story:

Our CEO Sue Jones used to hate attending corporate events when she was head of sales at her former employer. All those drab seminars. All the samey locations. And the food, the terrible, terrible food.

And that’s when Sue hit on an idea…”

Customer quotes or ‘social proof’

There’s plenty of evidence that shows people are more likely to believe ‘social proof’ – think testimonials from happy customers –  than anything you say about yourself.

So, ask your existing customers to share quotes with you, or display the logos of major brands you’ve worked with. It’ll show potential customers you’re credible and legit.

Any extraordinary facts, entertaining trivia or unique points of interest?

Writing an about us page using interesting company details

Donald Trump as a lad

Did your CEO go to school with Donald Trump? Are your employees involved in some worthy CSR activities? Does your company name have a weird story?

Any unique or interesting detail will make people remember you and ensure your company stands out. And that’s ultimately the point in any ‘about us’ page.

Last of all – use imagery and design

Far too many ‘about us’ pages consist of solid walls of text. What a shame!

It’s highly worthwhile including pictures of your team on your ‘about us’ page. Your readers instantly connect with images of other people – much more so than they would with pictures of inanimate objects.

The added value is that when people meet you in person (or if they already did at a conference or networking event), they immediately recognise you, fostering a sense of connection.

Need help writing your about us page?


Sometimes, you’re just too close to the subject matter to write your own ‘about us’ page. If you’re struggling, I can help you write an ‘about us’ page which conveys your company’s story in clear, compelling copy that will make visitors to your website want to work with you.

Contact me today about your website content writing needs.


Five tips for writing a professional bio that makes you stand out

professional bio for a speaking engagement

A professional bio will give people a feel for who you are and what you do – be that journalists writing up an article about your firm, visitors to your website or an audience at a speaking engagement.

As useful as bios are, most people loathe writing their own. You don’t want to sound like you’re bragging and it’s difficult to decide which career highlights you should include.

As a consequence, far too many bios end up as either:

a. Chronological lists of professional achievements


b. Edited versions of a CV

Either way, they end up reading as a load of business jargon no one understands and job titles/qualifications no one will care about.

Let’s look at five things that should go into a professional bio and some tips for writing yours.

1. What makes a memorable professional bio?

A good professional bio should mix fact with storytelling.

What I mean is that you need to provide people with some key information to understand the major events of your professional career, but also combine this with some more ‘human’ detail.

Your key facts include:

  • Who you are – literally, your name (repeat this a few times for SEO purposes)
  • What you do – your job title
  • When you joined or founded your company
  • Where you live, work and where you studied

Around these details, you’ll need to plot some of the more ‘human’ aspects of your story, things like:

  • Your major successes
  • Your approach to whatever your profession is
  • ‘Personal’ factors – such as important hobbies or family

2. How to write a professional bio

Here’s my process for writing the professional bios of my clients:

a. Understand the audience

While this is your bio, you should ultimately focus on who is going to read it. What do they want to find out about you? What context are they going to be reading the bio in? What ‘level’ does this need to be pitched at?

By working out who your audience is, you can decide on your style, tone of voice and the details it’ll be appropriate to include

b. Tell your story out loud to someone else

At this point, it’s really helpful to sit down and talk through your academic and professional experience with a colleague or someone outside your company. By talking through your experiences with someone else, they can ask for detail about topics you might think are unimportant, or ask you to clarify complex subjects. We can all get so used to the jargon of our trade that we forget that not everyone understands the terms.

By talking things through with someone else, you can reflect on your career, and they’ll ask questions which will help draw out useful details you might not have considered if writing the bio on your own.

3. Structure this into a narrative

Your professional bio isn’t meant to be a list of achievements. As pretentious as it might sound, you’re trying to tell a very short story which will inform and interest readers. Below is an example of how you’d start ‘narrating’ your bio using the most common narrative arc:

  • You need to set the scene and sow the seeds of a ‘problem’ of some sort

“Claire Jones is a leading accountant who knows businesses want to save £millions…”

  • You need to evolve the characters and the story

“Claire Jones believes the best way of doing this is to restructure her clients’ businesses using her unique method…”

  • Finally, the narrative needs to conclude in some way

“Claire Jones is available to help even more companies save on their tax bill”

You might find this professional bio template a useful starter.

3. How long should your professional profile bio be?

As a rule of thumb, you want one ‘main’ professional bio which can be sent out in press releases or be put on your profile in event and conference brochures. Given the space involved- and people’s tendency to skim read – I wouldn’t recommend more than 300 words.

Besides that, you might also need to distil this down to a range of shorter bios – perhaps one for your LinkedIn profile, and another briefer one for your Twitter handle.

4. Should you include detail about kids, hobbies and pets in your professional bio?

There’s a fine line between making yourself seem ‘human’ in your bio, and sharing irrelevant details which will make readers take you less seriously.

In my perspective it’s useful to include at least one or two details about your non-work life in your professional bio – especially on your company website and when speaking at events.

Why? Basically, it can help ‘oil’ social interactions with people after your speaking slot or when they meet you for business:

“Great talk! Oh and I see you do triathlons – me too!”.

5. Should my professional bio be written in the first person or third person?

Most professional bios are written in the third person.

The main reason for this is that using the third person can lend a certain authority to you – if it sounds like someone else has written up your bio, you must be a big deal! Second, you avoid the risk of sounding like you’re ‘blowing your own horn’.

That said, for some firms it might be much more appropriate to write in the first person. For instance, if you’re an independent business consultant, a doctor running your own practice or a freelance life coach, it will probably be more appropriate to take the ‘I’ form.

Need help writing your professional bio?

Struggling with your professional bio? I work with business leaders, independent consultants and senior executives to write professional bios which tell their stories and make them stand out from the crowd.

Contact me today to talk about how we can make your professional bio stand out together.



And I’m in business: your London freelance writer

“Freelance writing is the most wonderful way of earning a living. Nothing, except perhaps inherited wealth, provides greater personal freedom”.

– Andrew Crofts, The Freelance Writer’s Handbook

After nine months of saving, working evenings for clients after my main job had finished, and moonlighting as a sub editor at a newspaper, I’m delighted to announce I am now a full time freelance writer!

Working as a freelance writer has been one of my long term ambitions and I’m very excited to finally be doing it full time. I’m looking forward to meeting the clients I’ll work with in future, the fascinating articles, blogs and books I’ll write and the extraordinary people I’ll meet and places I’ll go.

With over three years as the head writer at a digital marketing agency in London, where I got to write copy for some of the world’s leading companies and led a team of three writers, I’ve gained a huge amount of relevant experience which should be hugely valuable to my clients.

Read on to find out a little more about my freelance writing business.

What content will I be producing?

I can provide a wide range of freelance content writing services, including:

  • News and feature articles for magazines and newspapers (editors: get in touch if you have an article to commission!)
  • Corporate blogs (either internal or public)
  • Whitepapers and eBooks
  • Web copy
  • Email campaigns and newsletters
  • Articles for third-party publications
  • Press releases
  • Surveys and reports
  • Ghostwritten books and articles

Which markets will I be aiming at?

The greatest appeal of freelance writing for me is the possibility to learn and write about an enormous range of people, places, companies, products and activities. I am always open to writing about new subjects – I believe the skill of a freelance content writer is to be able to master any topic and produce articles which the target audience will understand.

That said, I do have particular experience as a:

  • Freelance features writer
  • Freelance B2B technology writer
  • Freelance accountancy writer
  • Freelance insurance blogs writer
  • Freelance SEO writer

Visit my portfolio for some samples.

Work with me as your London freelance writer

I’m open for booking and would love to add you to my growing clients list. If you have a story you would like written for your publication, a blog for your website or any kind of marketing content for your company or your clients, get in touch with me today.

Traces of past and present at the Brick Lane Mosque

“When you become an Imam, you have to be seen to be serious when you’re walking down the street” said Yasin. “But, one advantage is I do get discounts on food in the shops along Brick Lane”, he broke into a grin.

We were stood on the first floor of The Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, also known as the Brick Lane Mosque. Both floors are covered in thick blue carpet, woven in Turkey and paid for by the worshippers – for £37,000. The carpet is a recent addition – the previous carpet had become threadbare from repeated kneeling worshippers, who attend five times a day, every day.

Inside the mosque

Inside the mosque

“It’s outrageously expensive to maintain” explained Yasin, who’s in his early 30s. The heating bill during winter alone cripples the committee’s budget, and they can’t improve insulation by replacing the large arched windows which line the walls on three sides of the large square space since the mosque is a listed building. English Heritage stipulates that if the mosque is to replace its windows, it will need to replicate the existing frames, at a cost of about £2,000 apiece.

The problem for the mosque is that the building itself is very old. Perhaps the most evocative symbol of the history of London’s east end, the Georgian building was built in 1743 by French Huguenot weavers who were fleeing religious persecution in their homeland. They opened cloth factories in the surrounding neighbourhoods and opened the church for their community. Over the next 150 years or so it went through the hands of different Christian denominations and associations before being converted into a synagogue in the 19th century by Russian and Eastern European Jews fleeing pogroms.

The Jews followed a strikingly similar pattern to the Huguenots – enriching themselves in the East End’s cloth factories before moving north out to the suburbs. By the 1960s the area around Brick Lane had once again evolved dramatically. A nascent Bangladeshi community was, once again working in the East End’s cloth factories and, in 1976 had pooled together to buy the now empty building. “Until then, the community would mainly worship in peoples’ homes, or they’d head out to the Regent’s Park mosque”.

I asked Yasin what the future of the building might be – as London’s Bangladeshis make the gradual migration out to Dagenham and Leyton, might the building be exchanged again? The future he couldn’t tell me, although he knew of mosques further out east where Bangladeshis and their British children and grandchildren had begun worshipping.

Sttreet view of the mosque

Street view of the mosque with minaret

For now, the mosque is still very busy. When I visited on a sunny Saturday afternoon in April, the ground floor was still relatively busy with men sitting around with prayer beads. Like any religious building, the mosque offers more than a place to worship. It also hosts weddings and funeral rites, Arabic and Koranic lessons for children on the 2nd floor after school and provides prayers in three languages – English, Sylheti (a variation of Bengali) and Arabic. There are different imams fluent in each respective language; Yasin was the first native English speaker and was sought out by the mosque because of a growing awareness that many of the younger generations of worshippers could only just about understand their parents’ and grandparents’ Sylheti – let alone Arabic. Besides prayer and learning, the mosque also offers additional services – from mentoring youngsters to providing help with visas and other social matters for new arrivals.

Most worshippers at the mosque originate from Sylhet Division in north east Bangladesh and arrived en masse from the 1950s onwards. However, roots were planted up to a century earlier in East London by lascars, skilled Sylheti seamen who worked on the boats of the British East India Company, many of whom ended up in this part of town at the end of long voyages.

Yasin explained that the mosque is also attended by a handful of Somalians who come for prayers in Arabic. And there’s also a fascinating Italo-Bangladesih delegation too. “They arrived only a few years ago – people originally from Bangladesh but who were living in Italy for many years. As the economy got bad there, they’ve moved on to London to find work”. Yasin explained the weird conundrum this poses – people of the same origin as himself, with a similar culture, yet whom he shares no common language. “We get by in English”. Like everyone.

If the building continues to have a close relationship with new migrants, the traces of its past incarnations are never far behind. On the second floor, a network of stairs and passages leads to a set of classrooms. Framed above the door of one is a stone plaque inscribed with a Hebrew prayer. “We do sometimes get some of the older Jewish community visiting who can remember when this was a synagogue. One of them translated me that prayer in full – though I can’t quite remember what it says”.

The Hebrew Prayer

The Hebrew Prayer

The building will have changed a lot for those Jewish visitors. Since the Muslims moved in, the cavernous body of the building has been stripped, and architects added a floor with a gap in the middle where worshippers can look down. At major festivities such as Eid, the addition of this floor means the building can now seat up to 3,000 people. Most of the time, the first floor accommodates female worshippers who cannot mix in the same space as men. In the past, Yasin explained, the ground floor was covered in a cascade of seats, typical of some synagogues.

Down in the basement, other traces of the building’s past are testament to its particularly Gallic origins. Two huge arched cellars keep the air still and chilled – perfect for storing wine. At Eid in the 21st century, worshippers break the fast in the cellar over a huge feast.

The basement

The basement

Back out on the street, I’m surrounded by today’s ever changing Brick Lane. A couple of hundred yards north, the slightly seedy and identikit Bangladeshi brasseries peter out into a series of ‘vintage’ clothing shops, hip cafes, street food stalls and weird chocolate shops, among other tourist traps (although there’s still a couple of decent Jewish bagel shops hanging on in there). Crowds of presumably bemused central Europeans listen to bearded men wax lyrical about graffiti artists, Chinese tourists swan by in pairs and hustlers try to talk you into a curry with a free naan and a pint of Tiger.

I think about Yasin and his story. He told me about his decision to become and Imam – “I never exactly planned it, but I loved teaching and it somehow just happened”. I think about how he’s aware that when he’s out on the street, he needs to keep up a composed appearance, even though in his private life he doesn’t feel like a very serious person. And then I disappear into the crowd, another visitor to Brick Lane.

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