Don’t tell them what needs to be told

This week gave Anastasia and I the opportunity to engage with the public during an emergency services day at Soho House. On the Friday of the half-term holidays, a variety of emergency service vehicles, accompanied by Fireman Sam, roll up to the historic home of Matthew Boulton. Several different community groups from Handsworth were also present. Upstairs in the Collecting Birmingham exhibition space, myself, Anastasia and Charlotte were on hand to discuss the existing exhibition of stories and objects related to Mrs. McGhie-Belgrave. We were also working with a face-painter, whose work was incredibly effective in encouraging families to venture beyond the downstairs café space.
The day also provided the opportunity to discuss some of the potential acquisitions as part of the Knights of the Raj project. We were able to obtain some fascinating insight from local residents into their experiences both in Birmingham’s historic curry houses and cooking curry at home. Among the stories shared were of a man who remembered his first Balti experience, at a curry house on Ladypool Road in the 1970s which served its dishes without cutlery. The restaurant was apparently also a popular haunt of Robert Plant, and housed a jukebox loaded with Punjabi records.
Another visitor, who had lived in Birmingham since the 1960s, first moved to Britain from Kolkata in 1961. Upon arriving in Britain, he moved in with his brother, who owned the Lucknow Restaurant in London, located behind the famous Windmill Theatre. Many people also shared their experiences of eating curry (in both its Jamaican and Bengali forms) at home, be it home-cooked or from a takeaway. We were told that the cooking vessels and implements we had seen at the Koh-i-noor restaurant were very different from those used in Bengali homes, which are often ceramic rather than metal.
The 999 Day saw almost 500 people visit Soho House, and we were able to have conversations about the museum collection with over 25. It is very encouraging to see people excited about museum collections and about how they can contribute their personal stories to the city’s heritage.

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