From City Of Empire To City Of Diversity: A Visual Journey

In October 2020, we were delighted to announce that funding was awarded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund for us to curate two major photographic exhibitions and an extensive citywide community engagement programme to coincide with the Commonwealth Games 2022 in Birmingham.

Working in partnership with Birmingham Archives, Library of Birmingham and University of Birmingham, our major new heritage project, From City Of Empire To City Of Diversity: A Visual Journey was created from The Dyche Collection, one of the most important photographic collections within Birmingham Archives and acquired by Birmingham Central Library in 1990. It documented post-1945 migration and the huge contribution made by those who settled in the city from the Commonwealth.

From City Of Empire To City Of Diversity: A Visual Journey officially launched in October 2020, as part of Black History Month. It was hosted by our Executive Director, Sabra Khan, and featured an online discussion with speakers, providing an opportunity for audiences to find out more about the importance of this collection and how they can get involved in the project.

In 2021, a schools version of the exhibition toured to 20 partner schools across Birmingham. We held a professional development day for teachers in 2021, ensuring colleagues had hands on experience of the activities they could take back to school. This, supported by comprehensive classroom resources, including oral histories, storytelling and an interactive map, has equipped teachers with the skills to confidently discuss the heritage of the people of Birmingham with thousands of young people.

At the launch of the schools exhibition, Robert Turner, Assistant Headteacher at Selly Park Girls School said:

“In response to the training provided by Sampad we’ve been able to introduce pupils to this wonderful collection. The pupils who have seen the exhibition have connected in their own way and their outcomes clearly demonstrate the passion that helped them produce their own artwork. It gives me joy to know that pupils are speaking to their parents,’ grandparents, and great-grandparents – finding out about stories that may have been lost.”

The main exhibition launched in March 2022 at The Library of Birmingham, and after three months attracted over 6500 people. The touring exhibition travelled to The University of Birmingham, Solihull, Smethwick, Moseley, Dudley and Walsall Leather Museum.

A Tour of From City of Empire to City of Diversity: A Visual Journey at The Library of Birmingham

The Dyche Collection features photographs by self-taught photographer Ernest Dyche and his son Malcolm, who had two studios in the city and produced individual, group, family and wedding portraits. In the 1950s, the portrait work shifted its focus to the first wave of migrants arriving in Birmingham from Africa, the Caribbean and Indian sub-continent. For over 25 years, many visitors to his main studio would have portraits made to send back to friends and family in their home countries – inadvertently capturing the story of Commonwealth migration, and recording an important phase in Birmingham’s history.

To highlight the reality of life for immigrants from the Commonwealth countries making a new life in the city, From City Of Empire To City Of Diversity: A Visual Journey used the Dyche collection and drew upon other collections held by Birmingham Archives, notably Benjamin Stone, Helen Caddick, Paul Hill, Nick Hedges, Vanley Burke and George Hallet.

Anne Jenkins, Director, England, Midlands & East at The National Lottery Heritage Fund:

“The role of migrants arriving in Birmingham post-1945 and the important contributions that they made have played a significant role in shaping the culture and heritage of the city. Inclusive heritage is very important to us at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which is why we are proud to support Sampad to showcase the important Dyche Collection through these major exhibitions and their accompanying activities. This will illuminate and acknowledge a lesser-known aspect of Birmingham’s heritage and broaden understanding in the wider community.”

The digitization of the photograph archive will be available for all to access in the future, the perfect research and educational tool and an everlasting legacy of this project.

Images: Dyche Collection, Reproduced by permission of the Library of Birmingham.

Project News

This project is supported by:

and support from The Cole Charitable Trust

Made possible thanks to #NationalLottery players!