I undertook my placement at a community heritage project called BAM! Sistahood! (http://angelou-centre.org.uk/?page_id=1427). It is co-ordinated by the Angelou Centre, a charity, which supports BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) women with skills training and counselling. The BAM! Sistahood project focuses on the history and heritage of Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee women in the North East of England and builds a digital archive to ensure their experiences and traditions are recorded. It is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which provides funding to many different organisations, which want to safeguard certain aspects of the cultural and historical landscape. The project relies on the participants to lead and make decisions about the project, and I am very interested in these processes. I was very curious to see how these methods, which I had previously mostly read and learnt about in the abstract, worked in practice. I was also keen to learn about how exclusion in heritage institutions and depictions gets challenged and how it can be changed – but also how it happens in the first place.
The first time I met the project participants as part of my placement was when I took part in their Heritage Café. This is a weekly meeting, where participants share ideas, collect objects and stories and plan events. It is a very friendly group of women, who are extremely welcoming to newcomers. I started to learn about their interests and wanted to know what they thought about history and heritage. It was great to understand how they wanted to learn more about history, and why they wanted to add their own stories to it. I was excited to participate in a project, which would ensure their stories and cultures would become part of the history of Newcastle and the North East region.
I became involved in different strands of the project and a series of events. In the Heritage Café, I took part in the facilitation of discussions, and was collaborating with other women to come up with questions to ask others. These were questions about experiences of migration, traditions and culture, education and work. I took part in several Wikipedia events, where we learnt to edit Wikipedia in order to redress the gender balance in the online encyclopaedia. At the last event, I even created a new article. I supported celebration events and helped to undertake feedback and evaluations at them, which I was very eager to get experience in. I think it is really important to monitor engagement and attendance to be accountable to the project and its participants. Monitoring and feedback also enables the project co-ordinators to adapt their plans to ensure future events are successful. I further took part in a session at the local museum, where we discussed how to plan exhibitions and looked at existing displays. In the local library, we showed members of the public how the BAM! Sistahood! project archives its objects and photographs. During these events and my time at the centre, I had the opportunity to discuss my concerns and questions with colleagues and my supervisor, and enhanced my understanding of social and cultural exclusion.
It was exciting being part of a team of women who are keen to share their ideas, and interested in different creative and technical ways of doing that. I enjoyed finding out more about participative methods, which I hope will help me during my PhD studies, as well as in my future career. For my next steps, I also want to find out more about how structural changes can be implemented to reduce exclusion. During my time at the Angelou Centre I learnt a lot about the value of diverse work environments, which ensure that different viewpoints get heard. In heritage and history settings, a diverse workforce would achieve that a variety of stories get represented. It could guarantee for BAMER women’s stories to get collected in archives, which would make them available for future generations to study, remember, celebrate and question.