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Exchange: Community-Led Collections Research

National Museums Scotland has been awarded a grant by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) with the National Maritime Museum, London, to enable organisations around the UK to work with community groups to explore experiences of empire, migration, and life in Britain through their collections.

Last updated: 10 June 2022

About the project

The £250,000 pilot project, entitled Exchange: Community-Led Collections Research, will see funding distributed to galleries, libraries, archives and museums to work with South Asian, African and African-Caribbean diaspora organisations to answer research questions identified by these community groups.

The year-long project will see National Museums Scotland and the National Maritime Museum, London, working as a hub; gathering evidence for best practice guidelines, providing expert guidance and holding a central fund which will be distributed to partner organisations around the UK.

Outputs will include new research into the historic and contemporary meanings of objects, which will inspire new, creative projects defined by community groups and centered around partner organisations’ collections. These will challenge and expand on established representations of diaspora experiences.

Project details

Project title

Exchange: Community-Led Collections Research

Project active

2021 - 2022

Research theme

Scotland's Material Heritage

Project team

National Museums Scotland

Dr John Giblin - Principal Investigator, Keeper for the Department of Global Arts, Cultures and Design

Dr Yahya Barry - Community Collections Research Hub Manager at National Museums Scotland and a senior visiting researcher at the University of Copenhagen’s Centre of African Studies

Iona Diver - Hub Administrator and Departmental Administrator for the Department of Global Arts, Cultures and Design

Jilly Burns - Head of National & International Partnerships

Janie Hopkins - Head of Learning & Engagement


National Maritime Museum, London

Dr Robert Blyth - Co-investigator, Senior Curator of World History at National Maritime Museum

Sally Archer - Research and Heritage Partnerships Manager

Sarah Lockwood - Head of Learning and Interpretation

Dr Aaron Jaffer - Curator, World Cultures

Roz Croker - Senior Manager: Partnerships and Public Engagement

Charlotte Paddock - Adults and Communities Participation Manager


Project collaborators

Confirmed partner organisations in Scotland include:

  • Museums & Galleries Edinburgh
  • Glasgow Life
  • David Livingstone Birthplace

Confirmed partner organisations in England include:

  • Museum of the Home
  • National Museum of the Royal Navy
  • Brunel’s SS Great Britain
  • Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums

Exterior of David Livingstone Birthplace with families walking around

David Livingstone Birthplace. Image: Walnut Wasp

Brunel SS Great Britain ship

Brunel SS Great Britain. Image: Adam Gasson

We want to support greater equality, diversity and inclusion within the galleries, libraries, archives and museums sector in the UK. To do this we need to consider who is visiting our institutions and what they find there when they do. We need to invest more work in how histories of empire, migration and life in Britain are told from the perspective of diaspora communities. This generous grant from the AHRC will allow organisations to work with UK communities who have historically been marginalised in museum and gallery displays to reveal and share a wider range of stories and perspectives.
- Dr John Giblin, Keeper of Global Arts, Cultures and Design at National Museums Scotland

Project updates

David Livingstone Birthplace

Community partners
David Livingstone Birthplace created their own community group by recruiting six participants from the African, South Asian and Caribbean diaspora communities. The call for participants was shared through the West of Scotland Regional Equality Council, Jambo! Radio and DLB partner’s networks.

Project overview
The project looks at how the DLB collection speaks to the different African cultures, communities and individuals that Livingstone encountered and how these stories can be revealed through object research and creative practice.

The participants will use objects from the DLB collection to expand upon and reveal new stories – particularly those relating to Livingstone's African crew members. An example of one of the posed research questions is: What can everyday objects such as a grain urn reveal about the experience of the African community groups and individuals that supported Livingstone?

Creative outcomes and engagement
DLB's Participants have identified various creative outcomes for their project. These include commissioning POC artists and storytellers who explore black histories and/or decolonisation within their practice to respond to objects from the DLB collection and Livingstone's story. The project will culminate with a public event at the museum in June where the creative outputs will be presented alongside musical performances and food in collaboration with local African diaspora groups.

Edinburgh Museums & Galleries

Community partners
Edinburgh Caribbean Association

Project overview
The project focuses on the experiences of childhood and explores the histories of empire, migration and life in Britain through the eyes of the Edinburgh Caribbean community. The Museum of Childhood collections are the initial focus of this community-led research project.

"I don't see my childhood here"

The lack of representation, politicisation of childhood and potential racism in the collections are themes of interest for the Community Partners. Initial workshops reveal a keen interest in comparing experiences of childhood in Scotland and the Caribbean. This includes looking at traditional sayings and their meanings, music, food, and folklore. The project provides a unique opportunity for intergenerational working and collaboration with individuals and communities in the Caribbean.

The Partners will engage in a range of activities that include object handling, and the acquisition of new collections where gaps have been identified.

Creative outcomes and engagement

The precise research topic and creative outcomes are being determined by the Edinburgh Caribbean Association. The aim is that new knowledge is shared publicly through a range of channels with Edinburgh Museums & Galleries' audiences and the wider museum sector.

An exhibition is planned to be displayed in the Museum of Edinburgh, and social interactions will be encouraged through shared enjoyment of Caribbean food and music.

The project is distinguished by providing professional emotional support to the Project Partners in recognition of the subject matter to be explored. A therapist and heritage consultant from the Caribbean community will advise on creation of a safe and supportive space for the project participants.

Glasgow Life

Community partners
BAG (Bangladesh Association Glasgow) and young people from the OSCH (Our Shared Cultural Heritage) programme.

Project overview
The project is researching and interpreting a plaque with the inscription 'Lascars Only' – in English and Bengali – from the Queen's Dock area of Stobcross Quay, Glasgow. This object is part of the Glasgow Life Museums collection, and it is a rare piece of evidence for the existence of Bengali speaking sailors (lascars) in Glasgow in the 1800s.

BAG is interested in telling the Lascar story with a Scottish perspective, as most research to date has been undertaken in England, Australia etc. The young people wish to focus on the human stories of Lascars. Glasgow Museums will support this by giving access to archival material and sharing research skills, as well as creating research packages with direction from community partners on what they would like to find out.

Creative outcomes and engagement
The creative outcomes are shaped around a focus the plaque and how this relates to identity and belonging. The two main elements suggested and led by BAG area drama performance to coincide with the Language Festival, and a seminar/community event in June. The performance will be organized and delivered by BAG and their community partners, with support from Glasgow Life Museums.

Museum of the Home

Community partners
Bangladeshi Youth led by artist Rahemur Rahman, and Kasi Ruksana Begum from London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Project overview
The project merges research interests in British Bangladeshi oral history with a focus on the Bangladeshi bedroom as a space that is often overlooked but full of stories of identity and heritage, especially for women. Young people who live and study in Tower Hamlets in East London will work with the Museum of the Home to identify themes and objects together with material from interviews conducted within the community to explore the topic of 'home', and how the meaning and uses of that space have changed over the last 50 years.

Documenting Homes – a collection of oral history testimonies, photographs and films that document people's homes and how they feel about them is the focus of this Partner Project. The community group will work with the museum to identify new objects and stories to be collected for this project through additional acquisitions or loans as the Bangladeshi community is not adequately represented in the current collection.

Creative outcomes and engagement
The project will work with a renowned local artist, Rahemur Rahman, to deliver a series of workshops with young people of Bangladeshi heritage to collect their and their families' stories of home. The participants will draw upon the content of the interviews to create textiles and objects which will form part of a new pop-up bedroom display at the museum. The artwork will allow visitors to step back in time with a multi-sensory art installation using smells, sights, and textures to bring history to life through a representation of the bedrooms of the British-Bangladeshi community around East London.

National Museum of the Royal Navy

Community partners
Chat Over Chai and The Royal Navy's Equality & Diversity Team.

Project overview
This project brings two communities with a diversity of experiences and perspectives together. Chat Over Chai is an inclusive group which celebrates the South Asian community in Portsmouth. The Royal Navy Equality and Diversity Group links Royal Navy personnel from a range of backgrounds, including people from African, Caribbean and South Asian communities.

Borrowing from the associations that drinking tea has as a backdrop to difficult conversations about Empire and providing a way of soothing feelings, the project Tidal Teatime provides a platform to draw out different perspectives and explore new narratives linked to the NMRN collections. The project considers what the NMRN collections mean for the communities engaged in the project and what these say about empire, migration and life in Britain.

The Partners will further explore which collections to focus their research and activity plans on, and a part of the project is to identify gaps in the collections and seek to address them. During the project, activities will include on-site collections research sessions, object handling training, oral history collection, and interpretation.

Creative outcomes and engagement
Early discussions have revealed an interest in creating both permanent outputs and performances. The Project Partners would like to be open minded at this stage and refine proposals for creative outputs following a period of research. Ideas around creative outcomes and engagement will be developed as the project progresses by working with a creative practitioner with links to the community.

Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Community partners
Tyneside Research Collective: a group of self-selecting people from the African and Caribbean community. Members are representatives of the following groups/organisations: North East of England African Community Association (NEEACA), the Angelou Centre, Teakisi, Newcastle University Staff Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic network and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff network.

Project overview
The project explores how the histories of diaspora communities are interlinked, in order to enhance a sense of belonging and to promote a greater understanding of the pluralism of Tyneside.

Two research themes are being explored: Indian Indentureship, from a family history perspective, and the lives of women of colour on Tyneside, both from the past and present, who have made a difference.

The project has been inspired by the history collections held by Discovery Museum which comprise of Science & Technology and Maritime, Social History and Costume & Textile and the archival collection held by Tyne & Wear Archives which is part of TWAM.

Creative outcomes and engagement
The Indian indentureship research project will culminate in a public event incorporating family histories and half block ship models in the collection that were built in the region and were used to carry people from India to the Caribbean. An interfaith spiritual event will also be arranged to honor participant's ancestors.

The notable women research project will involve a contemporary collecting programme to engage women to share their stories, these will then feature in a trail around the museum. There will be a celebratory event to launch the trail.

SS Great Britain

Community partners
The Bridging Gaps community group is based at Hannah More School, where 95% of pupils and parents are of black or minority ethnic origin and is based in a ward with the highest proportion of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people in Bristol.

The project explores critical questions that relate to the SS Great Britain and its connection to Bristol today. It asks:

How do the migration stories of the SS Great Britain's past compare and contrast with community group members' experience of migration and mobility in the modern world?

Research questions so far posed by community members look at establishing the origin, age and reason for travelling, as well as any cultural aspects such as dress, diet on board, potential religious affiliation or worship, or connection to writing, art or music. Travellers will be selected by community group members, based on their own personal interests.

Creative outcomes and engagement
The knowledge generated by the community group will be shared through workshops, an education resource and exhibition. Research boxes are the first of two tangible creative outputs. The boxes will be designed with content that allows school children to explore migration in the past, and how it relates to the contemporary world. The primary audience for the project outputs will be the wider Hannah More community. The exhibition in Brunel Square will consist of images and thoughts from the research process, selected by community group members, which they feel reflect the processes of discovery and thoughts about the project.

Workshop held at the National Museum of the Royal Navy

Workshop held at the National Museum of the Royal Navy

Email icon Dr John Giblin

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