Young people capture Birmingham’s heritage of child migration

Project celebrates diverse nature of the city.

On Saturday 8th September, Birmingham residents originating from more than thirty different countries came together to celebrate the culmination of a project that has collected local stories of child migration from the 1930s to 2015.

Even before the industrial revolution began to turn Birmingham into today’s major city, it has been shaped by successive waves of immigration. People from all over the world have come to Birmingham for a myriad of different reasons, bringing with them their labour, culture, food and music, physically helping to build the city and adding to its unique character. With support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, The GAP – a youth-led arts organisation in Balsall Heath – has been documenting some of the stories of those who migrated to the city at a young age.

The project began in May 2017, with the young team receiving intensive oral history training, which they then passed on to 36 more young people, all aged between 14 and 25. Over the following year, individuals who had migrated to Birmingham from all corners of the world were visited in their homes and interviewed, allowing them to talk about their own unique story and to share a range of impressions of Birmingham and the UK.

The resulting collection is a vital and fascinating resource that documents the many reasons that people have found their way to the second city, and records the lives they have lived and the contributions they have made to its development and progress. These important historical documents will be archived for future generations in the New Library of Birmingham and available to the public in every local library in the city.

As well as being an important contribution to the documentation of local heritage,Children in Movement serves as a timely reminder that behind the incendiary headlines lie human beings, with their own histories, backgrounds, stories and lives: a Jewish woman who fled Nazi persecution in the former Czechoslovakia recounts her experiences of one of the darkest chapters of human history; an Irishman who moved to Birmingham in 1953 recalls the infamous ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ signs that were once commonplace; and one interviewee breaks down in tears as she feels that today the country has gone full circle, back to the racist rhetoric that was prevalent throughout the 1970s and 80s.

You can discover these personal histories and photographs at the Children in Movement exhibition which runs from 11th September until International Migrants Day on 18th December, at The GAP at 498 Moseley Rd, Balsall Heath, itself an area with a long and rich history of immigration. The exhibition is accompanied by a full-colour publication Children in Movement: Birmingham’s Heritage of Child Migration 1939-2015, in which all the stories are accompanied by a photographic portrait. The book is available in both hardback and softcover formats directly from The GAP or online

Both book and exhibition will be fascinating to anyone with an interest in the history of Birmingham, be they native Brummies or those from further afield.