We recently had a family day out in Manchester, and went along to the People’s History Museum in Spinningfields. People’s History Museum is a museum dedicated to the history of democracy in Britain.
Issues such as the right to vote, fair pay, the trades union movement and capitalism are all covered in a really accessible way for children, and the exhibitions include personal stories, information boards and displays of photographs.
People’s History Museum’s programme for 2021/22 puts the spotlight on migration. Since 2019, People’s History Museum has been working with a community programme team made up of people whose lives have been affected by migration, looking at the stories the museum tells and responding to the absence of migration experiences within those stories. Instead of a standalone exhibition on migration, the museum has installed what it describes as various ‘interventions’ throughout the museum’s main galleries, relating to economic, forced and environmental migration and exploring the different reasons people come to the UK.
These interventions relate to the particular section of the museum they’re in – so, for example, in an exhibition on labour relations and fair pay, People’s History Museum has included a storyboard about why certain groups of migrants came to Britain to work in the textiles industry, how that shaped the industry and led to pay exploitation. This really shone a light on the contribution that economic migrants made and continue to make to the UK, and the fact that their contributions have been so often overlooked and undervalued.
Other stories covered on the passport trails include experiences of modern day slavery, young people seeking asylum on the basis of sexuality, and lived experiences of a refugee camp and the immigration and resettlement process.
To go with the migration information boards located in the main galleries, there are three paper passports relating to the different types of migration covered. Each has a different colour, which corresponds to the colours of the information boards. So, if you’ve chosen the purple refugee passport, you’d look out for the purple story boards within the exhibitions. The passports encourage you to think about what you’re reading, ask questions and encourage you to put yourself in a migrant’s place and imagine their experience.
We each chose a different passport, and had lots of interesting discussion over lunch about what we’d read and seen. One of the most thought-provoking things for my children was reading about the fact that refugees in the UK waiting for their asylum applications to be processed are not permitted to work (despite the fact that many are skilled to work in sectors where we have a shortage of labour such as the care sector) and instead have to live on an allowance of £39.63 per week, to cover every single expense.
We totted up all the basic things we could think of that a person would need during a week, and found that £39.63 wasn’t nearly enough to live any sort of decent life on.
We were invited to have lunch in the on-site café run by Open Kitchen after our visit to the galleries. The café has a good range of lunchtime options from sandwiches and soup to hot meals (with vegetarian and vegan options), and a lovely selection of cakes. All our food was delicious and the service was excellent.
We loved the fact that Open Kitchen work with local businesses to source ingredients that would otherwise go to waste and that are from a sustainable food chain (so, local, seasonal, organic and Fairtrade). People’s History Museum really is a fascinating gem in Manchester city centre, and we definitely recommend visiting the café during your visit for coffee or lunch.
Entry to People’s History Museum is free.
Jane and her family received a complimentary lunch at Open Kitchen, but all views and opinions are their own.