Collective Power: Feels Like Home, Barnsley Museums

| Anna Eaton

This year we’ve been delighted to partner with the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance (CHWA) on their first ever annual awards. We’re excited that the awards have now been rearranged as a special online event on Friday 20th November – get your tickets here!

We are part of CHWA’s Collective Power Award which aims to recognise a project or programme in which partnership working has improved the health and wellbeing of individuals or communities using the arts and culture. 

We are big believers in collaborative working and the power of doing things together. There is so much to gain when we pool our time, resources, networks, ideas and imaginations. But we also know it isn’t always easy. We are running a blog series up until Christmas featuring reflections and information about each of the brilliant projects shortlisted for the Collective Power Award. People from the heart of each project tell us in their own words what they’ve learnt along the way, what surprised them and what have been their favourite parts.

The second in this series is Feels Like Home by Barnsley Museums.

Feels Like Home is a community group that meets weekly for anyone new to Barnsley who doesn’t speak English as a first language, including refugees and asylum seekers.

The focus of the sessions is to learn English, led by a qualified ESOL tutor through discovering more about Barnsley and the UK, accessing museum collections, going on cultural trips and most importantly making new friends. They provide children’s activities led by a dedicated member of staff making it easier for parents and families to attend as they know accessing childcare can be a big barrier. Many of the members have difficult stories of trauma and loss, but together the group share cultural experiences, creating new stories with happier endings.

As one member remarked: “Thank you for making me feel like a human being again”.

Feels Like Home is a truly collaborative project with input from members and several organisations. Members of the group come from all over the world and it was set up as a collaboration between Barnsley Museums, Barnsley Refugee Council and local and regional special interest groups and organisations.

Even during this year of lockdowns and upheaval, the partnership is making new links and progress. They’ve recently brought together Barnsley’s key ESOL providers to identify ways they can support one another and offer better support, advice and progression routes for learners. Feels Like Home’s ESOL tutor Joanna has been working with the Refugee Council to encourage providers to offer free ESOL classes for asylum seekers and Barnsley College have recently put this in place.

Joanna Newman the freelance ESOL tutor and session lead for Feels Like Home and Gaby Lees, Sector Specialist, Community Arts Officer from Barnsley Museums and joint project Co-Ordinator told us a bit more about the project:

What has been your favourite thing about the project?

Joanna: Meeting our group members has been a pleasure and an honour. We have so many characters in the group that sessions are never dull. Our members come from all over the world, are all ages and bring stories and cultural heritage that combine into a very special group of fascinating folk. 

Watching individuals make progress with English, find work, make connections within Barnsley’s community, and grow in confidence has been wonderful. We’ve had group members take part in the Homeless World Cup, dance with Barnsley’s sword dancers, find volunteering opportunities, start university, learn to drive, and find their creative inspiration – and we’ve cheered them on all the way. Another favourite thing is welcoming the youngest group members when they have no English at all and watching their progress in English as they start school, until (in a surprisingly short time) they come along to a session with a broad Barnsley accent!

Gaby: Sharing happy moments with the group: when we took part in the Bright Nights parade the guy I was walking with was looking around at all the people and the lanterns and he turned to me and said ‘Barnsley is so beautiful’; seeing young men of all different nationalities dancing together at the Christmas party; seeing the little girl who had no toys of her own just playing at a session and then being overjoyed when we said she could choose a soft-toy to take home; taking more than 60 (!) people to York for the day.

Have you made and learnt from any mistakes along the way? 

Gaby: ‘Mistakes’ is quite a loaded word, but we have definitely learnt along the way.

We have learnt that having an experienced and passionate ESOL trained project lead is essential and that the session time is not enough – Joanna needs additional time to promote the group; to support the needs of individuals in the group, and to build relationships with other support agencies and providers in the borough.

We have learnt that it is really important to welcome the whole family, so that no-one has to miss out, and that the children who come need their own member of staff who can lead fun activities.

We have learnt that the cost of transport is a huge barrier to refugee and asylum seekers accessing culture – and when you remove that barrier there is loads of enthusiasm to take part.

Joanna: Perhaps giving group members complete freedom to choose where in Barnsley we went on an ‘Explore Barnsley’ trip. We ended up in Wetherspoons!  

Has anything surprised you during the project?

GabyFeels Like Home are full of surprises – the group’s willingness to try new things and share experiences together is joyful. And the more we spend time together, the more each person’s confidence grows and the more surprises there are to find.

Joanna: The biggest surprise has been a really lovely one, and that’s been the overwhelmingly positive and warm welcome that our group has received from everyone in Barnsley we’ve encountered. The Lighbox Library couldn’t have done enough to make the group feel welcome – from putting on special events for us, to helping us write our own Feels Like Home song, they’ve been wonderful. Local artists Fabric Lenny and 1940s singer, Alicia, the Barnsley sword dancers, Cannon Hall, Worsbrough Mill, the Cooper Gallery, Destination Barnsley Festival…everyone has been so kind and made the group feel..well…at home. 

To find out more about Feels Like Home find them on Facebook, read more about them on Barnsley Museum’s Blog and watch some of members of the group perform at Destination Barnsley International Festival.

Photo provided by Barnsley Museums.

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