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London gets a migration museum

8 May 20170 comments

A new museum has opened in London to celebrate the city’s and the UK’s long and colourful history of migration.

The museum aims to present “the long and magnificent nature” of migration to the UK, according to museum director Sophie Henderson, who said that almost everyone in Britain is descended from migrants.

“We thought there was a gap in Britain’s cultural landscape, which is crying out for a permanent museum like this,” Ms Henderson said.

“We’re starting quite small but we want to tell the long and magnificent story of people coming to this country and leaving it over thousands of years,” she said.

Housed in an old London Fire Brigade vehicle workshop in Lambeth, on the south bank of the Thames, the museum opened last week with an exhibition entitled ‘Call Me By My Name’ which looks at the former migrant camp in Calais, and ‘One Hundred Images of Migration’, which features photographs relating to Britain’s experience with immigration, dating back to Victorian times.

The Evening Standard newspaper reported that the museum will open an exhibition entitled ‘No Turning Back’ in September looking at key moments of migration in British history and forward to 2020, when mixed-race people are projected to be the biggest minority group in the country.

Ms Henderson said migration was a “massive issue” requiring “reasonable, calm debate” and that the museum sought to be “an important cultural space to contextualise migration to Britain”.

“If you peel back the layers in almost any family in Britain you will find a migration issue somewhere. People think about it more in sound bites than they should,” she told the BBC.

Museum curator Sue McAlpine said the Migration Museum would hold several special events for schools and colleges each year.

“Diversity will be key to making the museum an interesting place to visit,” Ms McAlpine said.

The project which has been dubbed Britain’s “Ellis Island” after New York’s famous migrant reception centre that has become a museum, has more than 100 high-profile supporters including Labour peer and migration advocate Lord Dubs, former Tory leader Lord Howard, and Rastafarian poet Benjamin Zephaniah.

“We ought to have in this country a cultural institution that puts Britain’s migrant population and their stories at the centre,” said Ms Henderson, a former immigration barrister.

“It’s the topic that’s on everyone’s lips — even more so now after the EU referendum.

“People’s attitude to migration matters. There is such a strong case for a calm, sober, well-informed discussion and a venue for those conversations. This will be the perfect place to unpick what people think,” she said.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist