A blog by Tim Burton-Jones
One thing I’ve noticed about Black Country folk is that they’re very proud of where they’re from; they have great traditions and a great history and they don’t try and hide it. This is something I noticed when I visited the Black Country Living Museum recently.
Of course, the Black Country Living Museum is a testament to the great history and people of the Black Country and generally seems as though it would be a great day out! (I promise they haven’t paid me to write that.) But it was in a small activities room on the far side of the museum that I got a big glimpse of Black Country pride.
This was as a part of the Black Country Arts project that we funded Rights and Equality Sandwell to run. Their idea is a brilliant one and really captures the mood of multi-faith Britain and Black Country pride.
They decided that not only did they want to keep the traditional Black Country arts alive, but they also wanted to share this great tradition with the new communities that have joined them in recent years. So, to do that they have collected a group of dedicated volunteers who are being taught Black Country arts so that they can return to their neighbourhoods and teach these skills themselves.
The hope is that this pioneering first group will be able to go back to their communities and bring together sewing classes at the church and cooking classes at the mosque and yoga classes at the community centre for a series of big Black Country arts sessions.
The group that I met at the museum were getting into the festive spirit as they put together rag rug Christmas wreaths. Rag rug making is a legacy of war time Britain, a time when a scarcity of resources led people to create rugs out of a collection of unwanted materials.
Some of the participants took to it like a duck to water and shared their memories of watching their mothers making rag rugs. Others found the task a little more tricky (I would have been one of them had I even been brave enough to give it a go!) and the surprise package of the day was that, what was probably a world first Iranian rag rug Christmas wreath, was being made faster than any of the others by the only gentleman in the room other than myself!
Rag rug making is, of course, not unique to the Black Country but other crafts are being taught to these volunteers and, a week or two before I arrived they had tried their hands at canal boat painting!
Plans for this to extend into the new year are under way and it sounds as though Rights and Equality Sandwell are doing a great job of merging the Black Country’s proud past with its bright future.
This great project is just one of over 1100 that Near Neighbours has funded over the past five years. We’re really excited about the enormous impact these have been having; gathering local residents of different faiths and ethnicities in neighbourhoods across England. These literal near neighbours are building diverse relationships of trust and working to transform their communities!
Author: Mr Tim Burton-Jones
Date: 14 December 2015
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