24th February 2016

Local Communities Create A People’s History of Birmingham’s Stratford Road

Sampad has announced that around 25,000 Birmingham residents took part in its major community heritage project, My Route, which explored the changing history of Stratford Road, one of the city’s busiest and best-known thoroughfares.

Working with local people between Sparkbrook and Hall Green, My Route identified changes in the population, landscape and culture from the 1940s to the present day, with the settlement and migration of new communities along the road.

The extensive programme of work was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, who have hailed the project as a great success.

My Route began with a wide-ranging investigation that looked at how different the demographics, faiths, trades, food, languages and architecture of the area have evolved and meshed together to create a vibrant and diverse city quarter. In partnership with Birmingham Archives, it went on to equip volunteers with new heritage research skills, using oral histories, factual data collection and public donations to uncover the unique history of the road.

A series of lively arts and culture activities gave people of all ages a chance to learn more about the story of the area.

A 1970s-styled taxi took passengers on a trip down memory lane, using props, sound recordings and storytelling to immerse them in the sights, sounds and memories of the Road. These tours proved to be so popular that Sampad is planning to run them again later this year.

Elsewhere, students from South and City College explored the history of faith in the area, using photography to examine symbolic architecture and foodies got a taste of Stratford Road, as Sampad hosted culinary workshops at three of the most popular restaurants in the area.

One of the main highlights was the My Route Exhibition Trail, an outdoor exhibition that featured large-scale photographs of eleven everyday people who live and work around Stratford Road – drawing a lot of attention and excitement from passers-by.

The portraits, by internationally-respected photographer Vanley Burke, were accompanied by personal memories from each person in the form of audio clips that were accessed by members of the public via ‘sound pods’ designed by pioneering artist Brian Duffy.

In total, nearly 25,000 people connected with the My Route experience, either as exhibition visitors, participants or volunteers. 51 volunteers from 13 different ethnic groups clocked up 450 hours as they brought the project to life by recording interviews with residents, collecting statistics, carrying out research and compiling Wikipedia articles about the local history.

My Route leaves a legacy of several permanent resources for future generations, including a new public archive of local memories. Sampad has also joined forces with local film-maker Sam Lockyer, from Iconic Productions, to launch a new documentary featuring interviews with the project’s contributors, participants and volunteers.

The My Route documentary will be screened at the University of Birmingham’s Arts & Science Festival from 16 March 2016. As part of the festival, members of the public will have another opportunity to view a selection of portraits featured in the My Route Exhibition Trail and to chat to Vanley Burke, Tas Bashir (curator of the Exhibition Trail) and members of the My Route project team.

You can find lots more information about My Route at www.myroute.org.uk or you can watch the My Route documentary on YouTube.

Vanessa Harbar, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund West Midlands, says:

“My Route demonstrates a fantastic legacy to be shared for generations to come. Thanks to National Lottery players, Sampad was able to deliver an extensive programme of community events in Birmingham, from taxi tours to culinary workshops and a photography exhibition trail. My Route has preserved the cultural memories of those who lived and worked on Stratford Road. HLF are delighted that even more people will get to share this legacy at the University of Birmingham’s upcoming Arts & Science Festival.”

Photo by Jas Sansi.