Journeys to Oxford show at Museum of Oxford tells migrants’ tale of how they got here

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A report by Hannah Somerville for The Oxford Times.

A RICH tapestry of art, family history and personal reflections will bring the Museum of Oxford to life in a display about the city’s people – and how they got here.

The Journeys to Oxford exhibition sheds light on the stories of people who came from the city over the decades and made it their home.

It includes the testimonies of about 115 people of 45 different nationalities, from Poland to the Pakistan and China to the Caribbean.

Neil Stevenson, community engagement officer at the Museum of Oxford, said: “This is an idea we had four or five years ago but actually started last July.

“The idea was for the museum to work with local people to celebrate the diversity of the city and look at the journeys of people who came to live, work and study here.”

Workshops took place with communities across the city including Barton and Blackbird Leys, and with charities including Art for All and Refugee Resource.

Participants told their stories through a mixture of paintings and sculpture, textiles, factual and creative writing and recorded interviews.

Among those to get involved was Vera Cooper, now 80, who came to Oxford from Trinidad in the 1950s to take up a post at the Littlemore Hospital.

Living on just £18 a week as a young woman she gradually acclimatised to her new home and, after a spell back in Trinidad, moved to St Clement’s to stay for good.

She said: “It takes a lot. You miss your family and the warm weather, and it’s a different culture you have to get used to.

“At the time there was a bit of a stigma around Littlemore; people thought you were working at the ‘funny farm’ but now people are more aware of mental illness.”

For her piece in the display Mrs Cooper offered two Littlemore magazines, an old photograph and her hospital badge, as well as recording an interview.

She said: “I didn’t realise it would get so big. I’m a bit of a shy person but it should be interesting.”

Journeys to Oxford also includes submissions from two sets of English as a second language (ESOL) students, elderly social clubs and creative writing groups.

About 60 Year 3 pupils at Bayards Hill Primary School in Barton were encouraged to create portraits of themselves with an artist-in-residence.

Helen Pooley, the museum’s education officer, said: “We asked them to share with us different stories about the languages and cultures they shared at home.

“It’s giving them a real buzz to see their own work on display in the gallery.”

The exhibition will launch on Saturday, June 10 in the Town Hall Gallery and will open to the public on Monday, June 12.

It is running parallel with a series of historical photographs from London-based project the Migration Museum, which will be on display in the corridor.

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