HLF recently spoke to Sado Jirde, Director at the Black South West Network (BSWN), about the HLF-supported There IS Black In The Union Jack project (#ThereISBlackInTheUnionJack).
Sado, There IS Black In The Union Jack is a film and history project by BSWN which looks at the relationships between heritage, race, identity and belonging for the Black and Ethnic Minority communities in Bristol. It’s the latest in a series of HLF-supported projects led by BSWN. Can you tell us how you developed this project?
This is the fourth BSWN HLF-supported project that focuses on the contribution and heritage of BME organisations and communities in South West England. Each project has brought focus to the tremendous impact that various BME communities have had in different locations across the region, particularly in Gloucester and Bristol.
There IS Black In The Union Jack is our latest and most timely project. We are currently in the midst of an environment that is witnessing a rise in both nationalism and xenophobia in countries which formerly highlighted and saw value in multiculturalism and diversity. Recent local and national events have thrust into the spotlight the complicated nature of race and racism, nation, citizenship, inequality and belonging in the UK; at the centre of many of these debates are BME communities.
What impact have you noticed for individuals and communities involved in exploring these themes?
Both the launch event and workshop were oversubscribed. We are aware that there is limited content available around these themes as well as spaces for exploring and discussing them in an honest, open and constructive way. Our projects allows this exchange to happen and widen the understanding of the complex nature of these themes. One attendee – Dr Madge Dresser - told us:
“…Just letting people know there is a Bristol Archive was worthwhile and exposing archivists to the fact that there is a tremendous thirst for documents pertaining to ethnicity and race showed the process was a two way street.”
In exploring the past and Black and Ethnic Minority communities' heritage, how do you feel that helps people to navigate and understand their current world and environment?
We know that understanding our past helps us make sense of both the present and future. It gives us confidence about who we are, to be able to interact with the world around us, and enhance our sense of belonging to a place.
Unfortunately, there is limited black history taught in our educational institutions, creating a significant knowledge and information gap about the cultural and heritage contribution of the Black community. In addition, the current context of highly-polarised public opinion around immigration has exacerbated the situation.
How has the HLF-supported project helped to raise the profile of BSWN's work and create new opportunities and ways of working with organisations?
HLF has been instrumental in the survival and growth of BSWN in the context of austerity and funding cuts. Most BAME organisations in the South West no longer exist, including regional infrastructure organisations. With HLF’s support, BSWN has been able to reinvent itself utilising culturally-related projects to open up dialogue and spaces for discussion around race, identity and the broader objective of achieving race equality.
HLF funded projects have also enabled BSWN to develop strategic relationship with the city’s major cultural institutions such as M-Shed, Watershed and the Festival of Ideas. Our community-led projects have also further strengthened our relationships with newer communities such as Somalis.
The film is launched at the Future City Festival in Bristol, a high profile event where you are speaking on Friday 20 October. How has your relationship with HLF developed since the first project?
Through the delivery of four successful projects we have developed a positive relationship with HLF. We believe the Fund has grown to better understand BSWN’s role and requirements in addressing issues of cultural/heritage inclusion in a nuanced and complex way. It has allowed us to develop projects based on community needs.
We have also seen our relationship evolve beyond project delivery to a more strategic/critical friend relationship, helping inform HLF’s strategic direction.
For some non-heritage organisations, a focussed heritage project can seem like a luxury to develop and deliver compared to raising funds for their core role. How have the heritage projects you have been involved with worked alongside the wider role of BSWN?
That’s true. Our first project was developed to address a lack of content in relation to the history of BAME organisations in the South West by a PhD student volunteering for BSWN. At its core, race is about heritage. By creating content, platform and spaces through which these discussions take place between communities, policy and decision-makers, we have been able to simultaneously inform policy and in doing so advance BSWN’s core objective of addressing racial inequality. There is a relationship between community based projects we have been able to conduct via HLF funding and our larger work around race equality, so our work with HLF makes sense in this respect.
Most importantly working with the HLF team, we have been able to frame projects in a way that they're relevant and needed by the community.
What could larger and well-established heritage organisations do to diversify their offer and bring in greater inclusivity?
First, they need to actually value different groups' understanding of heritage and have that represented at the decision-making table. Genuine partnership and collaboration is key. A need to diversify cultural content to cater for diverse audiences, and ensure people can relate to what’s on offer is also important. This applies to all underrepresented groups, not just race but also in relation to socio-economic difference.
Do you have examples of Black and Minority Ethnic heritage projects that you’d like share with our Online Community? We’d love to hear about them, particularly any marking this month’s Black History Month.