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Migration: a human story

27 September 2021

New interventions staged at People’s History Museum

Left to right New timeline, Passport Trails, PHM's Community Programme Team & Gallery intervention. Images courtesy of People's History Museum

A two year programme focused on exploring migration at People’s History Museum is reaching its climax this autumn with a series of interventions staged throughout the national museum of democracy.  These powerful, moving and sometimes shocking explorations of migration within the UK’s democratic history past and present are the result of a collaboration with a Community Programme Team made up of individuals whose lives have been shaped by migration.

The interventions, known collectively as Migration: a human story, touch every aspect of the visitor experience at People’s History Museum to not only bring new stories, but to look at the stories it already tells through the lens of migration.  The result is an immersive and emotional journey that challenges you to rethink what you know about migration and from which visitors will find lots to absorb and take away with them.

Jenny Mabbott, Head of Collections & Engagement at People’s History Museum, says, “There is so much for visitors to explore and reflect upon with the introduction of Migration: a human story.  We describe what has been created as interventions because of the way they interact with the existing content; that they are delivered so creatively and excitingly for visitors is thanks to the ideas and approach of the Community Programme Team.  Migration: a human story stands as the final chapter in an extensive two year programme that has looked at migration in so many different ways, including exhibitions and events, and as part of our commitment as a museum to continually update and examine the stories that we tell and, in contemporary times, for these to be told by the people they belong to.”

Passport Trail
Designed for all visitors, but particularly with families in mind, PHM’s Passport Trail challenges you to step into the shoes of a refugee, asylum seeker or economic migrant.  Just as in real life the choice is not yours to make, with your fate determined in this case by the spin of a wheel.  The twists and turns to be faced are the real stories and experiences of those whose footsteps you are following and your passport includes activities to help you further explore the narratives revealed, for example, the recent protests in Hong Kong, understanding the 1951 Refugee Convention, and the role of Asian and West Indian workers in the 1965 Red Scar Mill strike.

This free interactive activity starts outside Main Gallery One and is aimed for children aged 9+ to follow with their families.

Three incredibly strong animations, found at locations throughout the galleries, illuminate the stories of those sharing their recollections of migration; their words set to beautiful illustrations.  Included is A Refugee’s Story, which begins when a child leaves Ethiopia because of the suffering her family endured for being Oroma; her mother and father had both been imprisoned and tortured, her father disabled as a consequence. The animation tells of her life growing up in a refugee camp in Kenya, where water was scarce and food limited, housing very poor and the health conditions unspeakable.  She spent 15 years in the camp before a resettlement programme brought her to the UK and she recalls finally feeling safe when she slept at night. “This was the first time I felt peace and security.  It never felt safe in the camp.”

The Journey We Made Across Land And Sea, To Build A Country Not Made For Me banner (2021)
A brand new banner has been added to the 2021 Banner Exhibition known as The Journey We Made Across Land And Sea, To Build A Country Not Made For Me , it was commissioned by the Community Programme Team, who wanted to create a ‘fake trade union banner’ to subvert the classical ideals traditionally seen in PHM’s banner collection.   The work of artist Seleena Laverne Daye, it is designed to give a voice to migrants; visually representing those working in care, hospitality, agriculture and textiles.  Seleena says, “The Journey We Made Across Land and Sea, To Build a Country Not Made for Me speaks about the hostility migrants face when coming to the UK, the narrative told in mainstream media and the poor treatment, not just as workers, but as people.”

New interpretation
New interpretation throughout Main Gallery One and Main Gallery Two highlights historical and contemporary migration stories that are filled with personal insights.  Addressing an absence of migration narratives across PHM’s displays, the newly commissioned work is now a permanent feature.

Updated Battle for the Ballot timeline
In the atrium of People’s History Museum a vast mind map depicts how the vote was won for all.  Battle for the Ballot was created when the museum opened in its new building in 2010 and spans the period from the mid 17th century to the Representation of the People Act (1948), tracing the events and legislation that took place.  In it ‘Wars, Trade, Empire and Slavery’ are referenced in a small box, but nothing more, and the reference is shown in isolation with no further explanation.

The Community Programme Team has looked at this and created a new timeline that presents a fuller view of these complex histories.  Presented as Migration: a human story, this can be seen in the Changing Exhibition Gallery where it will be on display until 24 April 2022.  Visitors are also invited to add their own personal history or comments to keep the timeline fresh and alive.

Introducing the Community Programme Team
Migration: a human story began in its planning three years ago.  The impact of Covid-19 has expanded the timeframe, but not diluted the ambition for exploring migration as a theme within the museum and for this to be expressed and informed by those who have themselves experienced it.  Between them Agnes, Einas, Jo, Monika and Mulliana have lived in eight countries and speak 12 different languages.  They share their own stories amongst those that they have researched and gathered during the course of this project.  The diversity of their experiences encapsulates how varied the impact of migration can be.  The work of the Community Programme Team also reminds us that migration is not a new concept, but a constant and, so too are some of the perils.

Collections research, archives research, time spent with the museum team and training have given the Community Programme Team the opportunity to immerse themselves into the world of the national museum of democracy and see where this world needed to be expanded to better reflect representation of migration.  The results of this bring a whole new dynamic to People’s History Museum’s visitor journey and create a legacy that will continue into the future.

“Our project is only a starting point and will serve as a springboard for further change and widening the representation of migrants from a community perspective” says Monika Titãne, a member of the Community Programme Team. “It is a step in levelling the playing field for those of us who have been undermined and who deserve appreciation and recognition. Individually, this has undoubtedly made each of us braver and more hopeful for the future.”

PHM’s programme of migration, which has included exhibitions, events and workshops taking place throughout 2020 and 2021 has been supported by Art Fund and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

People’s History Museum’s opening hours are Wednesday to Sunday, from 10.00am to 4.00pm.  The museum and its exhibitions are free to visit with a suggested donation of £5.  To find out about visiting the museum, its full exhibitions and events programme based both at the museum and online visit, and you can keep up to date with the latest news by signing up to receive PHM’s e-newsletter, subscribing to the blog, or following the museum on social media on Twitter @PHMMcr, Facebook @PHMMcr, and Instagram @phmmcr.




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 Notes to editors:

About People’s History Museum (PHM)
People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester is the national museum of democracy, telling the story of its development in Britain: past, present, and future.  The museum provides opportunities for all people to learn about, be inspired by and get involved in ideas worth fighting for; ideas such as equality, social justice, co-operation, and a fair world for all.  PHM offers a powerful programme with varied themes; 2018 looked at representation and commemorated 100 years since the first women and all men won the right to vote in Britain, in 2019 the focus was on protest to mark the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, the 2020-2021 programme is on the theme of migration and 2022-2023 will explore disabled people’s rights and activism.  Previous winner of Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Award.

About Arts Council England (ACE)
PHM is an Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio Organisation (NPO).  The work of PHM is supported using public funding by ACE, the national development body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives.  ACE support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections.  Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us.  In short, it makes life better.  Between 2018 and 2022, ACE will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from The National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

About Art Fund
Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. It provides millions of pounds every year to help museums to acquire and share works of art across the UK, further the professional development of their curators, and inspire more people to visit and enjoy their public programmes. In response to Covid-19 Art Fund has made £3.6 million in urgent funding available to support museums through reopening and beyond, including Respond and Reimagine grants to help meet immediate need and reimagine future ways of working. Art Fund is independently funded, supported by the 131,000 members who buy the National Art Pass, who enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places, 50% off major exhibitions, and receive Art Quarterly magazine. Art Fund also supports museums through its annual prize, Art Fund Museum of the Year. The winner of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2021 is Firstsite in Colchester.

About Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust
The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) is an independent Quaker trust which makes grants to organisations and individuals working to produce positive social change through their charitable work.  Its mission is to support people who address the root causes of conflict and injustice.  Every year JRCT makes more than 100 grants for all kinds of charitable work, from grassroots community groups to well-established charities working to build a peaceful and just world.  JRCT supports those who are passionate about making a positive difference; whether they are promoting peace, advocating for some of the most vulnerable people in our society or taking steps towards an environmentally sustainable future.  The Trust supports work in five programme areas: peace and security, rights and justice, power and accountability, sustainable future and Northern Ireland.

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