By Fanta Manneh
Belong is a community development charity based in the Hyson Green area of Nottingham primarily working towards the advancement of social and economic integration of predominantly African migrant groups, including asylum seekers and refugees. Funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund, this project derived from a desire to celebrate African heritage and its contribution to the city of Nottingham.
We wanted the local community to gain inspiration from the life story of George Africanus who was brought to England within the 18th century at the tender age of 3 from Sierra Leone (West Africa) as a slave and went on to become Nottingham’s first African entrepreneur. The aim of the project is to document the civic and entrepreneurial heritage of the black African migrant community in the East Midlands from the 18th century to present day by highlighting the inspirational role of George Africanus. This is the story of someone who went from being a migrant slave to a wealthy, well respected and active citizen within the Nottingham community in his time.
During his time, he enjoyed many privileges that people of his background could only dream of such as two successful businesses, the ability to vote in local elections at a time when even women couldn’t vote, and being a homeowner. The project will produce a George Africanus Book which will tell his story, how his legacy came about and what led to his economic and entrepreneurial success compared to his compatriots.
The project has been instrumental in raising public awareness and learning and the establishment of George Africanus’ legacy and heritage locally. This has been achieved and is still ongoing through touring exhibitions, education packs, interactive learning materials, local events, leaflets, George Africanus website, calendar and book.
Key elements of this project:
• Recruitment of volunteers to partake in Heritage research in aims of help find out as much as we can about George, his family tree and in particular, any living relatives.
• Document the heritage of the black African community in the region through enterprise and civic participation using George Africanus as the main inspirational figure for public awareness and learning.
• Encouraging the black African community to actively access heritage facilities with training on how to do so.
• Providing a source of inspiration and increasing confidence within the black African community through the legacy of George Africanus.
• Coordinating community events to encourage heritage learning and social networking.
• Providing opportunities for staff and project volunteers to acquire new skills.
Project activities achieved to date:
• A Civic reception held on the 9th October 2014 as a sign projects success. The Lord Mayor of Nottingham City was a key guest with volunteers and community members present.
• Sessions with local communities to learn about the project and its progress to date.
• George Africanus walks which consisted of members of the local community and volunteers.
• A Blue plaque placed at St Mary’s Church in honour of George as a significant figure in Nottingham history, similar to other local heroes and legends such as Robin Hood.
• Touring exhibitions that have consisted of banners, poster and leaflets filled with heritage information about George at various locations and schools in the city.
• The Creation of George Africanus products/materials - website, information leaflets and calendars, children’s book, as part of education learning packs to go out to schools for years 5-7 .
We hope to have opportunities for creative writing activities and competitions for African migrants with similar stories enabling them to share their own experiences of migration with prospects of competition winners work appearing on George Africanus website. The project has had a huge impact on the community by enhancing skills and personal development via involvement in the project through training and activities on heritage research, group workshops/meetings, creative writing, archiving, IT training and visits to local museums. This has widened engagement and skills development especially among our service users, volunteers and the community in general.
George Africanus’ 250th Baptism anniversary will be on the 31st of March 2016. This is a key moment in George’s herit- age and we hope to hold a big celebratory event here in Nottingham with details to follow on our website.
If you are interested in volunteering, we are recruiting in the areas of heritage research, marketing, web content writing, web design, admin and management, with training and support offered.
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