The Birmingham Back to Backs, are calling for visitors to the city to come and discover local social history and Commonwealth ties by visiting their new exhibition spaces, which currently feature two installations created by community organisations.
For the duration of the Commonwealth Games and beyond, the Back to Backs on Hurst Street are home to two exhibitions; ‘The Lost Children’ by Balsall Heath Local History Society and ‘Home from Home’ by the Wassifa Heritage Foundation and Blackstory Partnership.
‘The Lost Children’ is a project dedicated to exploring the Middlemore Homes, which emigrated more than 5,000 children from Birmingham to Canada between 1873 and 1954. These children were in desperate circumstances, many of them living in the densely crowded back-to-back housing which dominated Birmingham at the time. Parents gave consent, aiming to give their children a better chance in life.
Val Hart, Secretary of Balsall Heath Local History Society said: “The purpose of the Lost Children Project is to raise awareness of this extraordinary part of our heritage, which very few people know about. The exhibition brings to life the stories of the children who were emigrated in great detail using photos, letters and documents.
“There are stories of great sadness but also stories of great success. The Commonwealth Games are a fantastic opportunity to share the stories of the deep, personal connection between Birmingham and Canada.”
‘Home from Home’ explores ideas around home and identity by replicating Mykal Brown’s childhood home in Handsworth. The front room explores how the Windrush generation made their own identity in Birmingham when they emigrated from Jamaica and the back room explores the emergence of Black British youth culture.
Mykal Brown, Chief Executive Officer at the Mykal Wassifa Brown Heritage Foundation, said; “This exhibition is representing home from home, it’s exploring what home means and it’s sharing what it meant to us. It’s about presenting objects that we grew up with which are the same as what other families and cultures would have. I hope people visit and recognise things their parents or grandparents used to have at home as well as experiencing our culture and stories.”
The two exhibitions are being hosted by the Birmingham Back to Backs, the city centre National Trust property which tells the stories of 200 years of working people’s lives. Court 15 is one of the only surviving examples of back-to-back housing in the UK and was saved by the National Trust and Birmingham Conservation Trust. This year they have launched a new exhibition space so they can tell more stories from Birmingham’s communities.
Ashton Cartmell, Property Operations Manager at the Birmingham Back to Backs said: “After the great success of the Commonwealth Games, we’re proud to be hosting two free exhibitions which share stories from different Commonwealth communities.
“The Lost Children is a brilliant project which shows the close connections between Birmingham, Canada and Australia while Home from Home celebrates how the Windrush generation and their descendants made the city their home. Both exhibitions highlight working-class stories from Birmingham and give visitors the opportunity to learn more about our brilliant city.”
The Lost Children and Home from Home will be at the Birmingham Back to Backs until the end of October. It is free to enter the exhibition spaces and, unlike tours of the main houses, visits do not need to be booked in advance. There will also be talks from Balsall Heath Local History Society and the Mykal Wassifa Brown Heritage Foundation as part of Birmingham Heritage week in September.