It’s a legacy.

The day began with a panel discussion by Hawwa, Maya, Samihah and Amina, starting off with the panellists’ personal reflections on the film produced at Our Shared Cultural Heritage’s (OSCH’s) poetry night in September 2022. The panellists were open, candid and honest about their time working for OSCH, highlighting an array of work they had achieved. Touching on how OSCH has targeted creating structural change, by encouraging young people to be integrated in projects from start to finish. Pushing this into the cultural sector, Manchester Museum now ensures a young person is present on all recruitment panels. In addition, OSCH has ensured the young people driving the projects are paid sufficiently for their time; their resource and effort to the organisation is acknowledged. Treating the youth with meaning and purpose also comes down to pay. These practices should be embedded and demonstrated with the legacy of OSCH. Panellists reminded the audience of the importance of structural change as "young people see through tokenism straight away" and I second them, how better can you demonstrate meaningful action than create an environment which allows your message to be continued beyond one month, or one session, or one project.

Whilst OSCH has so brilliantly worked on bringing young people of South Asian heritage and their fellows to the Museum of Manchester, the project was funded by British Council and the National Heritage Fund. Throughout the years of OSCH, the collective has been tasked with providing quantifiable data, to demonstrate the positive impacts of OSCH on its members, as well as the wider community. The panel reminded us how some impacts cannot be measured in this way. What sort of statistic measures how a museum feels more welcoming to the South Asian community in Manchester? Can you quantify the significance of the fact that this is the first permanent South Asian gallery in the UK, being free and accessible for Aunties and Grandmas, and for you to see representation of people who look like your own? Where are the numbers to prove that there aren’t?

Irrespective of any statistics, the impact of the work of OSCH remains visible. The panel added their personal reflections on how different forms of creative expression, poetry for example, have been used throughout OSCH’s legacy to inspire social action and drive change. Creating projects which allow people to feel safe enough to be open, and vulnerable when reflecting on their own experiences, languages, history, and current environments. The feeling of safety, in this event and in the experiences the panel reflected on was incredibly prevalent. That sense of security was counteracted for many of OSCH’s members, when considering some of their personal experiences, whether that be in workplaces, or in university where they felt a sense of imposter syndrome. Samihah reflected on her personal experiences of colourism, and how OSCH’s collective challenged her to publish a blog she wrote detailing her experiences, pushing her to speak out over a matter so close to her. Samihah utilised her strength and confidence, to speak out to others, setting up colourism workshops for schools, which cascaded into a feature of an academic book, and a podcast. It’s a legacy. 

The work of OSCH carves out hope for those within it, for those who might not feel like they belong to a museum, or to a seminar, or to a certain group of friends or colleagues. What is transparent is the sense of opportunity, coupled with the freeing ability for OSCH to evolve authentically. The art of change OSCH has been a part of, has cascaded from the capacity for the organisation to be led and manipulated by young people, allowing stories to adapt and grow, whilst facilitating the resources required to do that. 

I then listened to a book discussion led by Sadia Habib, in conversation with Nooruddean Choudry, author of 'Inshallah United'. Published in March 2023, Inshallah United has been longlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Awards 2023. Nooruddean’s book reflected on his personal experiences of identity and heritage, which in addition to the focus on football, Nooruddean explores the real-life social issues he experienced being racialised as a Muslim. Speaking on his experiences as a second-generation immigrant, Nooruddean builds on his own family experiences growing up. Nooruddean explores the concept of a moderate Muslim in the book, which toys with the idea that being a Muslim is everything, and this breaks down any preconceived norms or stereotypes that exist about being a Muslim.

To convey the notion of of feeling different from the rest, Nooruddean explores the idea of feeling different, as a brown person, with Pakistani origin, growing up. This notion of feeling like you are different is countered by Nooruddean’s experience of being a United fan, where he has an overwhelming sense of community, with a focus on this notion of brotherhood and sisterhood. For Nooruddean, his reality is such that he would feel a sense of belonging heading to a United game, and he also, simultaneously feels a sense of belonging at Friday prayers.

Sadia Habib draws on the parallels of the work of the Riz test, which looks at the representation of Muslims in film and media, to how Muslims have been viewed, or ostracised following matters like 9/11 where they are excluded from participation. With Nooruddean’s reflection on his book, and explanations of the origins of the themes of his book the need for a sense of belonging was inexplicably evident for me. Communities such as OSCH are vital to install new narratives around spaces which may have once felt inaccessible to minorities. Nooruddean draws on the way football fans have been represented in the media, as overwhelmingly white crowds, associated with wild behaviours following incidents such as the Hillsborough disaster. This led to Nooruddean’s family feeling nervous for sending their son into these environments as a brown person. Which Nooruddean drew upon to emphasise the point of how representation is vital to creating a sense of inclusivity, drawing on players such as Mo Salah at Liverpool, and the consequential impact this visual representation of Muslim football players can have on the perceptions of the game. A lasting thought Nooruddean left the audience with was how "Music, humour, film and football are social battering rams that can break through prejudice."

The final part of my day, poetry night. Ambience in the room was immediately vibrant with faces of people I saw at the last poetry event in 2022, and smells of delicious food. The audience were all encouraged to write their thoughts and reflections on a cue card on their chair, and I just knew following the evening, everyone would have something to say. A series of excellent poets stood up to recite their poems exploring themes of identity culture and heritage, all unique with their own experiences and stories. The power of words, the feeling of emotion, the strength in their voices was unimaginable, and raw. Throughout the evening I was reminded of the themes I had seen, listened to, and experienced throughout the day, safety, openness of arts, creativity, and its depths. The co-hosts of the event, Hawwa and Samihah, ensured the audience actively embraced each and every performer, with the enthusiasm and credit they deserved, because talent should be clapped, cheered and clicked at the way it was that evening. 

Thank you for letting me spend the day exploring and hearing about the legacy OSCH has created.