Young people in Birmingham connected with peace activists from the past as part of Sampad's heritage initiative Words of Peace, which explored the continuing legacy and impact of World War 1.
Funded by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, Words of Peace aimed to encourage new generations to debate and discuss the themes of war and peace, while helping them to uncover information about people and places associated with pacifist movements in Birmingham.
Sampad took their inspiration for Words of Peace from the globally renowned Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Tagore was moved to respond to an international peace manifesto called ‘Declaration of the Independence of the Spirit’ which was published by fellow Nobel Prize winner Romain Rolland in 1919. The declaration implored people to pause for thought after one of the most violent periods in history and consider a collective way forward to foster future world peace.
In Spring 2016 Sampad began its work with primary, secondary and sixth form pupils from Chad Vale Primary, Ladypool Primary, Kings Norton Girls Secondary, Rockwood Academy and South & City College, Digbeth to investigate the city’s response to World War One, looking in particular at renowned local pacifists, including the Cadbury family.
Sampad also recruited and trained community volunteers who gained special access to First World War archive materials at the Library of Birmingham and worked with curator Dr Siân Roberts to explore their significance. The information gathered was used as a basis for creative workshops in the participating schools, with the aim of inspiring the young people to produce their own modern-day ‘Pledges for Peace’ and express their own thoughts and feelings about war through creative writing and physical movement.
Towards the end of the project, all of the students came together to share their learning and experiences at a special ‘Words of Peace’ celebration event which took place on Tuesday 12 July at St Thomas’ Peace Garden in Birmingham City Centre.
The celebration began with a striking piece of dance theatre created and performed by Anusha Subramanyam, reflecting the concepts of peace and war through South Asian dance movement inspired by leading South Asian peace advocates of the past such as Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore.
To bring their learning vividly to life, the students then had a unique opportunity to meet and interview Donald Payne, the grandson of prominent local pacifist Harry Payne. Harry was a Birmingham businessman with a strong faith, whose pacifist beliefs led to him being imprisoned during the First World War as a conscientious objector. In 1939 he set up the Harry Payne Fund to help the disadvantaged and to support smaller causes which could use a modest donation to make a difference.
The celebration event culminated with one of the key highlights of the project – the unveiling of 150 Peace Pledges created by the participants.
The pledges were mounted on wooden leaves and installed onto a specially sculpted Peace Tree, which is currently touring to schools in the city.