Thursday, March 28, 2019

Work experience with refugee communities

We are happy to welcome a guest-blog post from a Leeds University work experience student, Yanlinyi Xia.

I am an international student from China currently studying Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Leeds. For my studies I am undertaking a placement with Wakefield Museums and Castles. The course I study covers different aspects of museum and gallery work including interpreting the past, engaging audiences and the history of museums. This provides me with a context and background in museum theory but my course also includes a work experience module, undertaking a placement with a museum to work on a project and get real world experience. 

My work experience project is with Wakefield Museums and Castles and I am supporting their work with Wakefield refugee communities. This project is a partnership between the museum service, World Jewish Relief for refugees (part of their Specialist Training and Employment Project (STEP) programme), and Horton Housing Association. I was so excited when I saw this, as an international student from China I am also new to the UK, and I think most of us have no idea about what happens to refugees in the process of resettling somewhere else. This experience has changed my thinking a lot. The STEP programme supports resettled Syrian refugees at the beginning of their journey into employment in the UK. This is a pilot project with the museum service and aims to provide a cultural and historic context, supporting the refugees to get to know the heritage of the local area where they are now settled. Tali Krikler, a freelance Learning and Participation consultant working for World Jewish Relief collaborated with the Museum Collections Officer to develop workshops in the museum exploring the local history and working heritage of the Wakefield District. Horton Housing, a not-for-profit organisation providing housing, training and support services to the most vulnerable people in society, supported the participants to attend the sessions and provided translation services.





In total five workshops were arranged over five weeks, meeting once a week on Wednesday afternoons. Each workshop covered a specific theme working with participants to investigate different industries and working life in Wakefield, historically and today. Tours were arranged around the museum for participants to see some of the displays and the workshops also featured hands-on sessions looking closely at different historic objects and discussing how they relate to work in Wakefield and their own working lives. I am still disappointed I could not attend on the “Food day” and taste the delicious cakes the participants brought in!




In total five workshops were arranged over five weeks, meeting once a week on Wednesday afternoons. Each workshop covered a specific theme working with participants to investigate different industries and working life in Wakefield, historically and today. Tours were arranged around the museum for participants to see some of the displays and the workshops also featured hands-on sessions looking closely at different historic objects and discussing how they relate to work in Wakefield and their own working lives. I am still disappointed I could not attend on the “Food day” and taste the delicious cakes the participants brought in!







I have really enjoyed recording all the special moments in this project, talking with participants and photographing the sessions. The handling objects sparked curiosity, and everyone had an opportunity to handle the artefacts and learn more about the heritage of their new home town. People also liked to link unfamiliar objects to what they are familiar with from their lives in Syria. We look forward to finding more links between Wakefield and Syria to help spark discussion and raise the confidence of those who attend. The workshops also helped the participants to develop their English language and learn new words.  



Seeing participants learning and exploring by visiting the museum was the best thing for me!




There were lots of things to consider when planning the workshops; how do we decide the weekly theme? What methods do we use to encourage engagement? How do we measure what they have learned and how much they feel the sessions were useful? We are now planning a small display to highlight some of the key objects and themes that sparked interest. Please check back here and other social media for more details coming soon!



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