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Education Newport News South Wales

Unique partnership to capture untold stories of Wales’ diverse communities

THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH WALES (USW) has joined forces with Amgueddfa Cymru (Museum Wales) and specialist domestic abuse support service Bawso to enable women to share their stories and create a vital contribution to Welsh heritage.

The Bawso BME Oral Stories project is a year-long partnership that will see the three organisations work together to collect, archive and share dozens of stories and oral histories from Bawso service users, which have never been heard before.

Bawso is a specialist service delivering expert support for survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence, human trafficking, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage. The service supports more than 6,000 survivors from BME communities annually – 98% of whom are women.

As the Bawso community represents diverse global identities, service users hold important stories about culture, heritage, and migration. Bawso’s location in Wales means that these stories are embodied here, but these particular experiences and perspectives are often intangible and undocumented.

Bawso service users are ready to tell their stories and have them preserved as a means of diversifying the national collection and archive; challenging existing interpretations of Welsh heritage and belonging; raising awareness about VAWDASV (violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence), migration, and diversity.

By hearing these stories, which will also be made available to schools, colleges and the general public on People’s Collection Wales, the team hope that listeners will gain a greater understanding of what it means to live in Wales now, which might help to build community cohesion and a positive future.

The team combines storytelling and research expertise from USW (Storytelling lead: Prof Emily Underwood-Lee; Project Associate: Dr Sophia Kier-Byfield), women’s sector specialism from Bawso (Project Lead: Nancy Lidubwi), and heritage at Amgueddfa Cymru. There is additional support from storytelling expert Prue Thimbleby, evaluator Jasmin Chowdury and People’s Collection Wales.

USW is also the home of the VAWDASV Research Network Wales. This work with Bawso adds another project to the growing portfolio of research linked to the network, making it a centre of interdisciplinary expertise in understanding and preventing gender-based violence.

Professor Emily Underwood-Lee, Co-Director of the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling at the University of South Wales, said, “It is a huge privilege to hear the stories that these amazing women share with us. I’ve heard about great food shared on Welsh beaches, tea plantations in Bangladesh, and songs and dances remembered from childhood.”

“We all have stories to tell, and listening to others when they so generously speak can enable us to recognise shared experience, find connection, and help us better understand what it means to live in the world today. I’m delighted that we at USW are getting to work with the brilliant teams at Bawso and Amgueddfa Cymru to bring these stories to light and ensure they are preserved for future generations.”

Nancy Lidubwi, Policy Manager at Bawso, added, “All of us at Bawso are delighted to be part of this great piece of work and thrilled about the anticipated outputs. The women who are supported by Bawso were beaming with excitement as they came out on a cold day to savour the rich Welsh culture stored at Amgueddfa Cymru. I remember the tears of joy from one participant at St Fagans Museum when she saw the Hindu goddess and she immediately related to her. This is such a memorable journey for me and the women who are part of this storytelling wonder. We are grateful to our funders and partners.”

Sioned Hughes from Amgueddfa Cymru said, “Amgueddfa Cymru is proud to be working in partnership with Bawso and USW to collect these important untold stories. The oral histories recorded will be archived at the Museum as a permanent record of the project. We are immensely grateful to the Bawso service users for sharing their lived experiences with us for future generations.”

So far, the team have conducted three museum workshops at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea, St Fagans National Museum of History in Cardiff and the National Wool Museum in Dre-fach Felindre with 15 service users and conducted 11 follow-up interviews.

More workshops and interviews will follow in the spring. Audio will be edited into long-form oral history interviews and short digital stories that can be used for various research, teaching and learning purposes.

The project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with further funding secured from the USW Civic Activity Fund to produce further outputs. A launch event for the project will take place at St Fagans National Museum of History in September 2024, with notable guests across the participating sectors to screen stories, share insights from the project, and celebrate the lives of those supported by Bawso.

To find out more about the project, visit the project website or Bawso’s website, or contact Project Associate Dr Sophia Kier-Byfield: [email protected]