Cyrilene Tollafield

University of Reading researcher Alice Mpofu-Coles spoke with Cyrilene in December 2020. In their discussion, Cyrilene reminisced about her experiences of moving to the Oxford Road as a child and later returning as an adult.

Below, discover highlights from their conversation!

Cyrilene Tollafield

Cyrilene has lived on the Oxford Road since 1965 but has gone away and come back. Originally from Barbados, she came to England during the Windrush period. Cyrilene arrived in Reading as an 11-year-old, and began her British education at Battle School, which was then a junior school. Cyrilene was the only black child with a disability in Reading. She still has her original passport when she came to the UK in 1965 and other photos when she was 12-14 years in a hospital due to her disability.

She moved back to Oxford Road because it offered her accessibility to the practical needs of her life with a disability.  These facilities included; a bus stop, chemist and a variety of food shops carrying Caribbean food supplies. She further stated that even when she ends up in a wheelchair, it is accessible.

She remembers Battle school well; that it had a nursery-junior and senior, and she attended the school until she was 16 years.  Battle school is now a primary only.

Battle School, Cranbury Road, Reading, photographed in 1982 by Peter Southerton (c) Reading Libraries Local Studies Collection

Cyrilene remembers from her childhood; coming out of the town centre, on the right, before the bridge was Mr and Mrs Williams greengrocer which sold Caribbean things, a post office, a garage and a doctors surgery which is still Cyrilene’s surgery. There was also a place that could make her specific shoes, as somebody who was born with Polio.

She has good memories of dances organised on Saturday nights in halls (such as St Lawrence Hall) and even at the University of Reading where their halls would be hired out for dances, there would be a sound system and often a steel band called Hurricane Force that played. They also started going up to London to dance halls.

She still has close childhood friendships with other immigrants in and around Oxford Road, which she says are more than friendships; they are like family to Cyrilene.  Some of them have never left the Oxford Road and have been looking out for each other during the recent lockdowns. She tells us about three particular friends, who are old school friends from Battle School who live off the Oxford Road. She tells us how the Coronavirus pandemic over the last year has confirmed to her that moving back to the Oxford Road was the right decision, to be surrounded by such supportive friends that are really like family. 

Cyrilene tells us that she had lots of other good friends, but who moved to other places such as Australia. Her childhood friends all had in common that they were immigrants. She remembers the parents of her childhood friends were strict, but everyone’s parents looked after all the children in the community.

Family connections were what brought Cyrilene to Oxford Road. Her father had come earlier and others followed, there was a strong Barbadian presence, with several people coming from the same town in Barbados. Cyrilene remembers how those that were entrepreneurial, and could afford a house, bought properties around Oxford Road and rented out rooms to other Barbadian people and the population expanded as there were no council houses at the time. Cyrilene’s father was very enterprising and owned several houses.

Cyrilene spoke of her cousin who is of mixed-race heritage who had family from Reading, this connected the family tree with other Barbados people settling in Oxford Road. Her history of Windrush families is unique in that she also had a grandmother who came to live in the UK. She was invited to go and talk about her history at the University in Barbados this year, but due to Covid 19, she was unable to go. Though, she was able to contribute to the Black History Month.

The road where Cyrilene lives today has six properties with people from New Zealand, Nigeria, Spanish, Bardians, English and Australia.

Cyrilene is disappointed with how the Oxford Road has been developed more for the businesses and not for the people. Because many shops have extended out onto the pavements, there is less room for pedestrians to walk, this sadly makes the road less accessible for her and others with wheelchairs or pushchairs. Having less space also makes it harder to stop and chat to people and this makes the road feel less friendly. Cyrilene would also like to see new community spaces for the entire community to gather for occasions such as celebrations or dances.