Barnsley Museums Community Heritage Curator, Steven Skelly, talks about his work with the Feels Like Home group in Barnsley, including a recent day trip to York hosted by York Museums Trust.
‘Feels Like Home’ is a Barnsley Museums ESOL group including asylum seekers, refugees, students, migrants and people whom English isn’t their first language. The group learn English, about Barnsley life and share world cultures. Feels Like Home is a safe and fun place for people often experiencing difficult times to meet.
The group have run over 70 weekly sessions making music, performing at festivals, cooked food at Cannon Hall kitchens, sword danced, made art, had parties, gone on nature trails at Worsbrough, found out how flour is milled…but most importantly have made friends and community links.
Attesting to the popularity of the group, their latest trip attracted over 60 attendees who spent a beautiful winter’s day in York. The sun was shining as we were greeted by a friendly Philip Newton at York Castle Museum. Philip and the team at York had generously agreed to host Feels Like Home, members of which wouldn’t normally get the opportunity for such a visit.
Everyone loved the sights and smells of an authentic Victorian street in the museum. Group members had fun with costumed interpreters, sent photos of themselves to loved ones and one member jokingly locked themselves in the jail. Feels Like Home were reconstructing their ideas of British history whilst also making links to their own heritage – some group members commented on the recreated working-class living room and how there were many similarities to places they had known, from gas lights, candles, tin baths and a roaring fire.
There was a sense of nostalgia but also a sense of belonging; the group identifying old products and toys in the glowing windows that were familiar. The group also enjoyed the latest exhibition a ‘Shaping the body: 400 years of fashion, food and life’, with children strutting down the catwalk and adults admiring the beautiful historic clothing. Again, links were made to originator cultures through traditional dress techniques.
Making the most of the unseasonal sunny day the rest of the day involved a brisk walk along York city walls and the Shambles and then a visit to the iconic York Minster, to admire the beautiful stained glass and the spooky Undercroft Museum.
Most people on the trip had never been to York before, or visited a museum of this size. York is a bustling city, and the group were both heartened by the diversity of the city but also remarked how cosmopolitan and wealthy York was; many commenting on the expensive shiny shops. It was lovely to be welcomed to this beautiful city by the Castle Museum team as some of the commercial areas seemed unattainable and exclusive for some. Some women in the group also mentioned that the museum provided a safe and comfortable place to come together. There were loads of smiles and laughter.
Feels Like Home said they would come back to York and the museum again. The trip was a chance for members to experience culture that would normally be a barrier for them due to their circumstances, and for this, Barnsley Museums are very grateful for York Castle Museum in creating this opportunity.
For more information about Barnsley’s most diverse and fun group of friends, please contact Experience Barnsley.