FORTY years after arriving in Bolton from West Africa Nat Biney is proud to be a Boltonian.

His journey from student to pillar of the community, though, is as colourful as the background from which he came.

Nat, now 72, was born in Ghana into a large, extended royal family. His parents split up when he was eight and he moved with three sisters and a brother to Larteh in the Akuapim region.

Nat’s family were well-respected cocoa farmers and his cousin, Nana Asiedu Agyemfra V, was Ghana’s longest-serving chief. He died at the age of 83 after 63 years on the throne and the chieftaincy remained in the family, passed to a cousin of Nat’s who is now the chief of Larteh Kubease.

Nat proved an able school pupil, progressing through middle school and secondary school in his teens. In 1976, his academic talents led him to being chosen as Ghana’s first apprentice in the country’s new textile industry created with Chinese and British help.

Nat helped establish the new Juapong Textile industry in the Volta region. Because of his excellent English and education, he assisted the Chinese Managing Director in interviewing more than 3,000 people to fill various jobs there. Afterwards, he worked through from the preparatory to the finishing department and was appointed the company’s first Ghanean technical supervisor.

He later became the main person training industry graduates, soon realising they would swiftly overtake him. As chance would have it, during his studies he spotted that all his text books were written by lecturers of Bolton Institute of Technology. So, he decided to go to the UK and BIT - the forerunner of the University of Bolton – for further education.

Nat funded himself and arrived in Bolton in September 1976 to cold, wet and windy weather. He complained to his sister who lived in London but she persuaded him to stay! Two years after, he was joined by his wife Levina.

What warmth Nat did find, though, was in his welcome from local residents. “People would chat to me and be really nice,” he stated. “Of course, there would be the odd person who wasn’t nice but I was never told to get back to my own country or anything like that.”

After completing his degree course, Nat gained admission to study his MPhil/PhD in textile technology at Leeds University. His studies were still self-funded but, as he approached his second year, a military coup in Ghana meant Nat could not get his money out of the country. So he had to leave university.

He applied for several jobs but was constantly told he was over-qualified. Desperate to support his wife and himself, he asked the Job Centre for any job and was sent to Warburtons’ bakery.

There was only one post available here: on the twilight shift in the bakery for just one week. “So I took it. I needed the work,” he said. The week turned into a month and then five months, and then Nat was given a better job. He ended up staying with them for 20 years.

“I’m very grateful to Warburtons,” he stated. “The company gave me a new life and a very good place to work. My job enabled my family to live a better life and my three children to become well-educated.”

During his early studies, Nat met locally-based Africans from Ghana, Nigerians and other nationalities but there was no official body for them. As time went on, Nat and a friend decided to do something about this and in 2004 in the Victoria Hall, they held the inaugural meeting of the African Community Association of Bolton.

They eventually had premises in Johnson Street in the town centre, later moving to the YMCA. Today, the Association is based in Churchgate House, led by Nat offering voluntary services helping and supporting people from all over Africa and running events, notably those around Black History Month each October.

Nat, who spent 17 years as a JP in Bolton, has become a central figure in the Association although he is retiring this year. His standing in the town is high and he and the association have been pivotal in various community initiatives. He has served as a school governor, church councillor and a member of the board of CVS, Racial Equality Council, Bolton Art Forum and Bolton Healthwatch.

Nat himself believes that Bolton is a friendly, tolerant town that genuinely welcomes newcomers and itself gains from this influx of driven, hard-working individuals.

He frequently returns to Ghana, is proud of his heritage and of being Ghanaen but also refers to Bolton as his home. “If you have a landlord who isn’t good to you, you leave,” he asserted, with his familiar courteous smile. “Bolton has been good to people like me so we want to stay.”

COMMUNITY CHAMPION – Nat Biney at work in the office of the African Community Association of Bolton