Marking Refugee Week 2023
22 June 2023
The University of Reading and the The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) are running a number of events and activities to mark Refugee Week 2023 and their work towards becoming a University of Sanctuary and Museum of Sanctuary.
Community researchers’ work with migrant transnational families
As part of the University’s work towards the University of Sanctuary Award, a celebration was held with community researchers to recognise their work with migrant transnational families in Reading and their family members living in other countries.
The Transnational Families in Europe research project led by Ruth Evans, University of Reading and Rosa Mas Giralt, University of Leeds, compares migrant transnational families’ experiences within four study countries with contrasting welfare models, migration regimes and post-colonial legacies. Using family-focused Participatory Action Research (PAR), community researchers from Reading have been central to the project, undertaking highly engaging, sensitive and emotionally demanding work through recruiting and interviewing three generations of migrant transnational families.
Community researchers and practitioners who have been supporting them from Reading Community Learning Centre and Refugee Support Group came together at the University of Reading to reflect on the research process and the situations they uncovered amongst the families they interviewed.
Community researchers discussed how much they valued the support provided by one another and the research team and how enriching they found the cross-cultural discussions. One community researcher said
“Listening to people's life stories, their ups and downs and how they overcame different challenges and to become a part of their life for a short time was very rewarding. This for me confirmed faith in human ability and integrity to manage their own lives. I found this project very stimulating. Interviewing people from different age group and using skills to pitch the questions at their level and probe if necessary whilst totally respecting their views and thoughts has been invigorating”.
Community researchers also experienced personal growth by developing their skills in qualitative interviewing, digital technology and translation, as well as increasing their ethical awareness. Conducting interviews in the families' preferred language and drawing upon shared cultural backgrounds provided meaningful data about these families’ lived experiences that would have been missed with translators. A community researcher summarised:
"Using their local knowledge and their connection with their own community, community researchers are able to identify appropriate families to interview. This can be valuable. Also, I think living and working in the same community helps to build trust between families and the community researcher and perhaps this enabled all the interviewees to speak openly and honestly about their lives during the interview process”.
Creating Inclusive Spaces: Museums collaborate to support refugees
The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) hosted a performance by Rank and File Theatre Company of a short theatre recital on climate justice and displacement on 21 June, drawing on The MERL collections as inspiration. The recital is devised and performed by refugees, asylum seekers, people with disablement and mental health challenges.
The MERL, in partnership with Reading Museum and funded by Arts Council England, are working towards becoming Museums of Sanctuary.
To mark their commitment to this important award which shows that museums welcome all people who are seeking refuge, regardless of background or circumstance, MERL and Reading Museum have collaborated with Reading Community Learning Centre, CompaRecovery College and Reading Refugee Support Group, to pilot activities that will help refugees settle in to their new communities.
Phillippa Heath, Learning and Engagement Manager at The MERL said:
“In recent years The MERL's community programmes have revealed the role of the museum as a place where people of diverse backgrounds and experiences can feel connected to each other, to collections and to hear their voices heard. We recognise in particular the deep and valuable role that our museums can play in providing safe and welcoming spaces, in particular for refugees and newly settled communities, to connect with others, to explore our shared histories and to build confidence and improve wellbeing.”
“Thanks to Arts Council England funding at both The MERL and Reading Museum, we are excited to be developing this work responsively with a number of community partners who support asylum seeker and refugee communities locally, and look forward to developing with them shared opportunities for participation, enjoyment and inspiration at our museums.”
Other activities for Refugee Week 2023 include:
- The University hosted 30 members of the Reading Golders Club to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Empire Windrush arriving in the UK. Read more about the event.
- An exhibition telling the story of the Windrush generation who made Reading their home is set to open at Reading Concert Hall on Saturday 15 July. Find out more on the Reading Museum website.
- The University is once again supporting the Reading Community Cup through its partnership with Reading refugee football team, Sanctuary Strikers FC. The tournament will be held on Saturday 24 June at the John Madejski Academy.