REVIEW Collecting Birmingham, Soho House Museum

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A must-see collection showcasing Birmingham’s strength in diversity.

Less known than the grand museum on Chamberlain Square, Soho House in Handsworth is the site of a small but compelling exhibit which celebrates the impact of immigration on Birmingham.

‘Collecting Lives’ brings together photographs, letters and everyday objects to tell the stories of the people who have lived in working class areas like Aston, Ladywood and Nechells over the last 50 years.

Many of the items in the collection come from the personal belongings of Mrs Eunice McGhe-Belgrave, who came to Birmingham from Jamaica in 1957. One of the most moving exhibit pieces is a single suitcase, which Eunice brought with her when she emigrated.

“The working class areas are where people land before moving on,” says photographer Vanley Burke. “These places don’t belong to anyone… but we all belong here.”

The city’s proud history of protest is also included in the exhibit, with placards from last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. The Black Lives Matter movement was also front and centre during the launch event, with singer-songwriter Janel Antonisha reprising ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, which she performed at the march, along with a heartfelt anthem dedicated to every black person who has died due to police brutality. Janel’s performances were interspersed with spoken word pieces by the talented young poet Damani TruStar Dennisur.

Perhaps summing up the spirit of the event and the collection best was Eunice McGhe-Belgrave herself, who stood up to say a few words on the importance of community. “If we can just have tolerance,” she said, “things will get better.”

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