Many of the Italian inhabitants and descendants based here in the UK come from the southern regions of Italy, predominately South of Rome. Men were recruited after the 2nd World War by the brick companies to help re-build our towns and cities and the women came to work in the greenhouses and on the land. The agreement was that after so many years employment they would be granted citizenship. This was an appealing prospect for many families as post war Italy was impoverish and unable to offer the same opportunities. This practice was adopted right across England and suddenly pockets of Italian communities started to grow, from as far North as Edinburgh right down to Bedford, London and on into Worthing.
Founded in 1973, Piccola Italia started supplying the rapidly growing Italian community here in Worthing and surrounding areas on the South Coast with Italian produce which, at the time, staple foods like pasta and beans for example were not readily available in the UK. Run by Father and son for over 3 decades, Piccola Italia has always been at the centre of the Italian community.
Post 2nd World war, the Italian government focussed their attention on rebuilding the larger populated towns and cities whilst the smaller towns and villages were left to fend for themselves. With no jobs, no money and in some cases no homes. Following the German occupation of Italy, many Italian families from Avellino and surrounding regions were displaced across Germany living in housing estates and complexes and recruited to work in factories and returning home after the war was very difficult for many.
Back here in England the major brick companies were frantically trying to keep up with the demand for building materials but with so many lives lost during the war, labourers were in short supply. So the brick companies decided to look further afield for their ‘bulk recruitment scheme’. The Italian government who were struggling to reduce the gap in living standards and poverty agreed to support the scheme and encourage labourers to sign up. The brick companies offered the men full time employment, a home for their families and after 5 years of continuous employment, the right to remain here in the UK as a citizen.
The mass recruitment drive saw families from across Italy migrate and set up communities in Worthing, Bedford, Woking, Enfield, Huddersfield, Manchester, Edinborough and throughout the UK. These communities generally consisted of residents from local regions in Italy and friends & families from neighbouring villages so everyone knew everyone.
At the time Worthing was renowned for its mushroom production. Offering the sunny South coast and a fairly short distance to London it became a popular destination for those recruited by the London Brick Company. Worthing also offered employment opportunities for the women too, working in the greenhouses, cultivating and farming the mushrooms.
And that is where the Piccola Italia story begins. As the communities grew, so did the demand for Italian produce. Already established and incorporated in 1979, Bedford continental had already started importing Italian foods and set up a supply chain and with no competition and a thriving community Piccola Italia was put on the map.