Residents of the Soho Road and Handsworth shared their stories of migration during curated walks and workshops with Black Heritage Walks Network and Overhear, whilst asking them to consider their own connection to the place.
Their stories were turned into audio pieces by the digital creative writing company Overhear, including newly commissioned poems, and worked into a brand new heritage walk from Black Heritage Walks Network.
Each of the audio pieces have been digitally pinned to real-life locations using the Overhear app, that users can download and collect by exploring Handsworth and its history of migration – think ‘Pokemon Go’ for poetry!
You are invited to collect these stories, and experience Birmingham’s Super Diverse area from the beautiful, genuine perspective of the people that came to live in the UK. Whether experienced in a park, a housing estate or a bus stop, audiences will be encouraged to pause, listen, reflect, and ultimately celebrate the vibrant community that calls Handsworth home.
The Soho Settlers heritage walks took place around the time of the concert musical. However, if you are interested in learning more about the other walks which Black Heritage Walk Networks offer, please visit their website here.
How can I download and use the Overhear App?
1. Head to the App Store or Google Play Store and download the free Overhear app.
2. Open the app to discover all the amazing audio pinned to locations near you. Tap the ≡ icon in the top left to focus on audio pins from Soho Settlers.
3. To listen to the Soho Settlers pins located in and around the Soho Road, you will need to travel to each of their locations to collect them.
4. Once you’re near the pin, look out for the on-screen pop-up to let you know that the pin has been collected and dropped into your library automatically.
5. Next go to your Library, listen and enjoy!
6. To continue collecting audio and building your pin collection, follow the onscreen instructions when prompted to make a free Overhear account – this will allow you to keep the recordings in your library to be listened to at your leisure anywhere.
Handsworth Library, a space in the middle of Soho Road, hosted us for a day. The purpose of this workshop was to collect stories from those in the community that wanted to be a part of the project, but weren’t necessarily connected to an established group. It was important the project be open to everyone in the community, so setting up shop in an open space allowed for the perfect backdrop for this to take place. We sat with local residents enjoying a cuppa tea and a piece of cake, hearing stories of migration and life in Handsworth of various ‘Settlers’, including those from the Irish, Jamaican and Scottish Highland communities!
During the pandemic, the organisers at the Nishkam Centre on Soho Road became concerned about the wellbeing of their elder members. They were stuck at home with no connection to the outside world, doing little to no activity, and sat with nothing but their own fears and concerns. They were also dealing with the effects of losing beloved members of their households and community. As a response, and when it was safe to do so, with appropriate measures in place, they set up a group dedicated to the physical and mental wellbeing of the elders within their community, a place for them to find connection and purpose. Jasvinder, the organiser of this group was kind enough to allow us into the space to talk with the awe-inspiring ‘Aunties’. We were fed the tastiest Chai and Samosas, and regaled with tales of what it was like to move here, live here and what it took to build the centre up from nothing, to the thriving community we now see at the heart of Soho Road.
The Nishkam centre works with Handsworth residents from all religious and cultural backgrounds, not just those from the Sikh community. Their amazing work includes feeding the hungry, running language classes and also hosting computer courses for anyone regardless of their personal circumstances. In recent years they have been working with victims of the Windrush Scandal to receive compensation for the horrific injustices they have endured. A group of those claimants with a connection to the area joined us for a chat (yes over more delicious Chai and Samosas) to discuss what life was like for them growing up in the area. From working in local shops, escaping to the Handsworth swimming pool for a ‘Holiday’, being stopped by The Authorities, or attending a ‘Blues’ party, this workshops made us both laugh and cry in equal measure.
80% of UK adults rarely, if ever cycle, with this statistic increasing for women and those from the Global Majority. Handsworth cycling club is here to redress that statistic! The group was founded in 2016, and meets every Sunday at Oaklands community centre. The leader of the movement, Sam Sahdra initially teaches locals how to ride on the ‘Baby Bike’ before building their confidence up to a level that enables them to enjoy Birmingham’s wonderful cycling routes including the beautiful canals (for those that don’t know Birmingham has more canals than Venice!)
One sunny Friday afternoon, we took a walk through Handsworth park. With over 63 acres of landscaped grass slopes, the park has hosted a variety of both Council and community organised events – from Vaisakhi with its huge processions to the Marcus Garvey Festival with music and entertainment. Handsworth Leisure Centre is also based in the park. We were transported back to the famous Handsworth Carnival days, whilst also discussing the lifeline the park was for escapism during the lockdown.
The five poets below; each of whom have their own connection to Handsworth; were commissioned to write and record audio pieces for Soho Settlers – responding to the stories and memories shared by residents in workshops with Black Heritage Walks Network and Overhear.
Charis McRoberts is a writer and performer originally from Ireland. She was a BBC New Creative and one of thirteen poets selected for Poetry Ireland’s Introduction Series. Her previous work includes audio dramas. She lived in the Handsworth area during her time at university and sees it as her ‘Brum home’.
Rick Sanders, aka Willis the Poet, is an established comedy stand-up poet based in the mighty West Midlands. He is a regular headliner and featured poet on the flourishing spoken word scene across the UK, his sticky sausage-fingers in as many pies as he can. You can find him running his mouth off at any event where there is a) an audience and b) a microphone. In between gigs he skulks in the dark recesses of abandoned buildings trying to think of funny things to write about, which is testament to the contents of his new book, “The Top Secret Poetry Notebook of Willis the Poet”; a romp through the cerebral cortex of a man who writes humourous verse about pretty much anything and then inflicts it on unsuspecting poetry fans the world over.
Ryan Sinclair is a 28-year-old Spoken Word Poet, Author, Actor from Birmingham. He has worked with organisations such Beatfreeks, The Arts Council, The Ort Gallery and he has performed in locations such as Birmingham Town Hall, Boxpark Wembley, Atlanta’s Apache Café and is currently working at the Belgrade Theatre as a Freelance Producer. He has been writing since the age of 12 and has been performing consistently since 2019. In 2021 he had worked with organisations such as Apples&Snakes, GBSLEP, Birmingham City University Shoot Festival and many small independent organisations across the UK.
Adjei Sun (also known as a.sun) is a poet, storyteller and organiser based in Birmingham. He began performing poetry at just 15 years old in 2016. In 2021, he performed for Ted X Youth Birmingham. In 2022, Adjei performed internationally at the Dubai World Expo. As an organiser Adjei has been producing events for 3 + years to engage young people in Birmingham in causes around them. In 2022 he began a community storytelling project which creates a safe space involving the use of the arts and discussion to open conversations around masculinity, gender and mental health.
Cassandra Wiggan is an award winning, multi-disciplined performance Artist and community project coordinator from Birmingham. She has worked with established arts companies such as Punch Records, Drum Arts Centre and Bigga Fish. In addition, being an ambassador for the ‘Music Potential’ project run by Global Radio and an ambassador for the Repertory Theatre and Hippodrome. Cassandra has cultivated some of her own projects also, from co-presenting a monthly artistic platform event ‘Word up’ providing a platform for up and coming artist. Cassandra is a conscious creator thought-provoking art. She wants to break the negative cycle of the youth today in the local community and hold space for others to connect with their true essence.
Birmingham 2022 Festival presents a China Plate and Birmingham Hippodrome project. A Creative City Project generously supported by Birmingham City Council.
Generously supported by Arts Council England and The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, Birmingham City Council, Garfield Weston Foundation, Transport for West Midlands and National Express West Midlands.
Photos © Paul Stringer