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Mother and daughter create homage to Caribbean culture

MUSEUM FOUNDERS: Catherine Ross (right) and her daughter Lynda Burrell

A MOTHER and daughter team are behind a new project to celebrate people of Caribbean heritage in the UK.

Former teacher Catherine Ross from Nottingham and her daughter Lynda Burrell have teamed up to create the Skills Knowledge Networks (SKN) Heritage Museum, the UK’s only museum celebrating Caribbean social history, heritage and culture.

The museum is a pop up venture that holds exhibitions and events around the country in community centres. It showcases key aspects of Caribbean culture through art, music, performance and artefacts.

Ross and Burrell founded the project in March last year. They funded it themselves after some of the organisations they approached for help told them they couldn’t see the need for this type of museum and didn’t think it would work.

“We proved them wrong” Ross told The Voice. “We have increasing numbers attending our events and we attract a diverse audience.”

The idea for the project began in 1999 while Ross was teaching English, study skills and life skills to underachievers at secondary school.

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Many of the black children she worked with were struggling in their education and this spurred her on to look into doing something to celebrate black heritage and culture in a bid to boost their self-esteem.

She recalls: “I wanted these kids to know their identity was more than slavery, but I couldn’t find a lot of information about our heritage anywhere.”

So she put the wheels in motion to set up the museum by asking people from her community in Nottingham to donate items. She used her pension money and with help from her family she began to realise her dream of giving back to the community.


HISTORY IN A SUITCASE: One of the exhibitions on display at the pop up museum

Ross also used her background in teaching and management consulting to develop plans for the venture and her daughter joined her as creative director of the project.

Burrell explained: “Mum is from St Kitts and my dad is from Jamaica. As a family we all liked attending plays and museums. My mother Catherine always had a desire to open up the family home as a museum once my sister and I had grown up and moved out. Catherine wanted people to know the Caribbean story so she started looking for artefacts and items to do with Caribbean culture, mainly the Windrush generation.”

According to Burrell, one of the reasons they were both passionate about the project was to counteract what they felt were negative opinions and stereotypes about the Caribbean community.

She said: “Caribbeans should be proud of where they’ve come from and how far we’ve come. I think people believe we (Caribbeans) don’t have much to offer. When they think of black history they just think of slavery but our history is rich and we need to shout about our successes and that’s why we’re here.”

So far the venture has clearly been a major success.

Thousands of people from all walks of life have visited their pop up museum at the cities and towns it has appeared at.

They have held six events including their Caribbean and Cultural Exhibition and Screening at The Ritzy in Brixton, London, back in May where over 700 people attended.

The London exhibition focused on the Windrush generation during the 1940s and 1950s. After World War II the British government encouraged people from the Caribbean, and later West Africa, to migrate to England.

The ship MV Empire Windrush brought the first group of 492 immigrants to Tilbury near London on 22 June 1948.


LANDMARK: The impact of the Windrush generation is featured in the museum’s exhibition

Burrell said: “People sometimes think museums are boring places with dusty books and artefacts but ours is different because we’re mobile. We have the freedom to engage with lots of people in different locations. It’s a different and innovative way of looking at museums.”

The London exhibition included the premier of the award winning short film Nine Nights which looks at Caribbean funeral traditions in the UK, and Home to Home: From Caribbean Isles to British Isles a widely –acclaimed exhibition highlighting what the Windrush generation brought with them to England.

The inspiration for the film Nine Nights and the focus on the Windrush generation came from family experiences of a number of personal losses in a short space of time.

It became evident that there was a need to capture the memories of this pioneer generation before they were lost forever.

“We wanted to capture the way we do funerals and how some things are the same and others have changed. The response from those outside of our community has been fascination and a genuine interest in our cultural differences.”

EDUCATION

The SKN Heritage Museum is also aimed at providing a cultural education to a younger generation of Caribbean people who may be disconnected from their heritage.

“The older generation came to England for a better life for their children” said Burrell. “England was the motherland, and they wanted to become English. Some of them didn’t want to bring their culture with them. The Windrush generation see themselves as British; they’d go back to the Caribbean for a holiday but not to live.”

■ For further details please contact Catherine Ross via email on sknheritagemuseum@outlook.com or call 07469 189 550.

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