Woman behind Peterborough's first Indian shop fought racism and advocated love through cooking

Ravneet Nandra spoke with Ranjit Kaur's family about her legacy in Peterborough.

The family of a woman who set up the first Indian convenience store in Peterborough in 1964 say she's left a great legacy for the community.

Ranjit Kaur came to the UK from India in 1952 and founded the shop on 111 Cromwell Road.

It was initially met with prejudice but she persevered and the shop ran for 25 years.

She died last month but her family want to celebrate her life that was dedicated to helping others.

Who was Ranjit Kaur?

Ranjit Kaur was born in a small village in Punjab but moved during the partition. She left India and came to England for a new life in 1952 at the age of 13.

She lived in Wisbech, Nottingham and March in Cambridge where her husband, Gurdial Singh ran a market stall, before moving to Peterborough.

Ranjit Kaur was always known to have a business-savvy mind. So when she got tired of travelling to Cambridge for her Indian spices and vegetables, she decided to open one in Peterborough.

Ranjit Kaur found a vacant property on Cromwell Road and in 1964, Rathore Continental Store opened.

Deljit Singh as a two-year-old and now Credit: ITV Anglia

But her son, Deljit Singh, spoke about how tough it was to initially keep the store open and bring in customers in a predominantly white area.

He said: "There was a lot of misinformation, rumours like 'the colour comes off your hands, they're unhygienic, don't shop from them.'

"So the shop was just a few weeks from going under because there were just no customers coming.

"But mum was really determined and she had a friend, an English lady called Margaret, and getting Margaret to stand in the shop with her other ladies to come in and start talking.

Margaret and Ranjit Kaur Credit: Deljit Singh

"Once they came in...everything was quite nice."

He recalled, as a child, smelling food coming from the kitchen as people placed orders.

Before he knew it, his mum was teaching women how to cook, so they would come to the shop to buy ingredients.

As more families from India and Pakistan emigrated to Peterborough, she taught women how to speak English and started a savings scheme so families could buy their own homes.

Family friend, Ansar Ali, was only a small boy but he remembers the help Ranjit Kaur gave his family who came from Kashmir.

He said: "My mum didn't speak any English. Very difficult to adjust and women like aunty-ji... were of great help to many women in the community.

Aloo Gobi-One of Ranjit Kaur's favourite dishes Credit: ITV Anglia

The family closed the shop in 1990 after 25 years.

But that didn't stop Ranjit Kaur teaching people how to make curries that reminded her of home.

She passed down her secrets to her family, teaching her daughter-in-law Jaswinder Kaur and her grandchildren.

In homage of her recipes, they make them at the Sikh temple, Gurdwara Baba Budha Sahib Ji every Sunday.

Her granddaughter, Neelam Kaur, said: "She would teach people whatever ethnic background you're from to just love one another, no matter what we look like.

"She wanted everyone to show love and that's how she brought food into it because everyone likes a home-cooked meal and she'd give it to our neighbours.

Ranjit Kaur with her grandson Amerjit Singh and his Queens Police Medal Credit: Deljit Singh

Ranjit Kaur's legacy lives on in her grandchildren.

Her grandson, Amerjit Singh is one of the highest ranking Asian officers within Cambridgeshire police.

He was awarded the Queens Police Medal by HRH Charles, then Prince of Wales.

Amerjit Singh says he used the foundations of Sikhism - of helping others - in his work, something that his grandmother instilled in him.

He said: "I draw strength and inspiration from that their fights and struggles to make the world a better place... inspired me in my journey to be a police officer and help my communities too.

Ranjit Kaur died in August from kidney failure.

Deljit Singh is running to raise money for a dialysis machine at Peterborough City Hospital, to say thank you to the team that looked after her.

The family are now hoping to put a blue plaque outside the shop in memory of Ranjit Kaur.

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