We Are Movers: collaboration with women on migration, mobility and settlement
By Briony Fleming and louisedredge, on 12 March 2019
This blog has been written by Louise Dredge, Public Engagement Manager (SLASH & IoE)
In our work to support staff and students at UCL to make public engagement in research and teaching a normal and valued part of their work, it is always a joy to experience the impact of those engagement activities and what our support can enable.
In early February, I found myself at London’s Migration Museum (whose current home is The Workshop on Lambeth High Street) for an exhibition launch and a celebration of a public engagement project supported by a public engagement bursary from UCL Culture.
The Migration Museum is dedicated to telling the story of movement to and from Britain and as I walked through corridors and doors marked ‘Departures’ and ‘Arrivals’, I was reminded of my own migration journey, from Ireland to London, and those feelings of trepidation, fear and hope for all that was yet to be in my new home. The museum was a befitting venue to celebrate and share the outcomes and outputs of this collaborative project, which aimed to bring together academic research and the lived experience of migration and through that to co-construct knowledge about migration, mobility and settlement. The project was initiated by Dr Rachel Rosen, Associate Professor at the Department of Social Science in the Institute of Education (IOE), with IOE staff and students, the Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network and the Helen Bamber Foundation.
As Rachel admitted to attendees, this collaboration was “a bit like cooking something you haven’t cooked before”, drawing together new collaborators and approaches, not knowing exactly what would emerge. With women from the Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network, the Helen Bamber Foundation, artists, students and researchers, they undertook a series of art-based conversations, creative activities to facilitate the exchange of experiences and knowledge of migration. Participants explored their experiences at the point of entry to the UK, of settling into new neighbourhoods and accessing public services.
Three key themes emerged in the project and these were expressed through artworks, poetry and performance. Exploring the theme of belonging, one participants spoke of her delight at access to clean water and of friendly and supportive police officers who were there to help rather than brutalise. Through a silent performance, we saw the importance of relationships in nurturing a sense of belonging and overcoming many legal and social barriers faced in settling in a new country.
One of the artworks co-created by the group challenges the narrative of refugees and migrants that dominated the headlines in the Brexit referendum; newspaper clippings take the form of butterflies clustered to form stars, celebrating the diversity and beauty of our society against a backdrop of stereotyping and misrepresentation. Another of masked figures holding signs with ‘Border Control’ and ‘Speak English’ questioned the concept of integration as a one-way process, and explores the barriers that some participants experienced as they sought to ‘integrate’ due to their insecure immigration status. You can learn about these themes and the background to the project, on the IOE London blog.
At the culmination of the event, every participant received a certificate to mark their participation in the project, and women from Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network told us how important it was to have their voices included, recognised and celebrated in academic research on migration and settlement.
The event, and the project overall, served to highlight the role that UCL can play as a refugee-friendly space and in serving the public good.
The ‘We are Movers: We Are Towers of Strength’ exhibition will be on display in UCL’s Cloisters from 17 June to 12 July 2019.