In Kirklees, West Yorkshire, a team of three education and community heritage specialists lead a Schools Linking programme with a difference. Carry My Story is the name of the Kirklees Schools Linking model; at its heart are the TLN activities and questions Who am I? Who are we? Where do we live? and How do we all live together? The Carry My Story programme includes three additional elements– a story (we all have stories of identity), sharing (then carrying) the story and a link with a refugee living in Kirklees.
It begins with each refugee talking to the Kirklees Linking team about their story, making choices about what they would like to share, decorating a story box and making a tiny book to hold their story (see image).
Meanwhile, the children and young people hear the refugee’s story and “carry” it for some weeks with their teachers, collating questions they want to ask, researching the country and culture of the person whose story is shared; stories are collected and passed onto the link class once this identity work is well under way. Each class then prepares to present some of the stories they have received from their link class. A great deal of importance is attached to this part of the process: the schools hearing each others’ stories, swapping them, carrying and presenting them. This provides the schools with the opportunity to listen, select relevant parts of the story and consider how they will present it back to their link school. Once this process has begun the refugee element is introduced; the beautiful story boxes are posted to schools and pupils have the pleasure of receiving a parcel and unwrapping the treasure inside.
Then, in the same way that the class has carried and prepared to present the stories of their link class, so they prepare to present the story of their refugee. The process has been carefully planned from the boxes, to the questions the items inside generate, to the questions the children ask when they meet the refugee, whether in person or virtually. This means they are very well prepared to present their refugee’s story – selecting important or significant episodes in the life of their refugee. Presentations are as creative as possible – whether through drama, poetry, art, dialogue, music or a combination of these. In previous non-Covid years the refugees have been present to hear the class presentation of their stories – a particularly poignant and emotionally charged experience, welcomed both by the class and the refugees themselves.
The depth of pupils’ questions continues to amaze us: “What gave you the strength to leave your country?”; “How have you had to change your identity to live here?” and from a 6 year old “How do you stay happy without your family and friends around you?”
Children involved have been excited to discover that amongst our group of sanctuary seekers is a biochemist, a chemical engineer, an international footballer, an expert beekeeper, teachers, musicians, a computer scientist, a vet, and an industrial manager.
Following the visits, the children begin to form a creative response to the shared stories, that can be presented to parents and fellow pupils in schools during assemblies, and with a wider audience at finale events. It is a time of creativity, pride, confidence, empathy, understanding, encouragement and real love. One refugee said “Today we feel part of a big family. You have helped to create out first happy memory in the UK.”
In spite of the challenges of the last 16 months, due to the pandemic, the Linking programme is continuing – with 32 schools taking part this year. The benefits of the project have exceeded all expectations. At a time when our communities, our country and indeed the world seem ever more divisive and fractured, this work is more important and relevant than ever! We’ve identified 3 main areas of impact – at an individual therapeutic level, at a social level and finally, the broader community impact: prompting social action.
We’ve had positive feedback from schools, parents and pupils:
‘It’s so important to do this with everything that’s going on in the world right now that separates us,’ Parent of Y1 child, and comments from two Linking pupils:
‘I’m excited to meet (him) because I want to hear how his life has changed,’
‘This story helped me a lot, I feel like I should help more people in life.’
Batley Grammar School Linking students acted upon one story and shared what they made: ‘When reading your story, we found out about a group of people called the Talish, who make handmade carpets. We like the colourful threads they use, so we decided to use colourful threads to make friendship bracelets. We have made one for you.’
The bracelets went out into the community, sending a positive message and carrying the story even further, bringing smiles to those who received them.
There is a real buzz around this programme, linking members of the community of all ages from across the area. As one Linking student said, ‘You don’t know who people really are or what they go through in their lives, until you take time to listen to their stories.’
Read about the Kirklees Linking Programme here, or contact:
David Raven-Hill, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kim Strickson, email@example.com
Monica Deb, firstname.lastname@example.org
Read about us on Twitter: Sanctuary Kirklees @huddtownosanct
Click here to read the #Kirklees Welcomes blog
Supported by Kirklees Council, The Linking Network and Sanctuary Kirklees