MIGRATION between Britain and Ireland has been part of the two countries’ shared history for millennia.
Over the centuries, that migration has been well documented – but to learn more, I went along to a new London exhibition dedicated to us, the migrant community.
'Adopting Britain' in the Royal Festival Hall, curated by the Southbank Centre and Counterpoint Arts is home to the stories of migrants from all over the world to Britain since the 1940s.
The Migration Museum Project (MMP) is one of the contributing partners - and one of the project managers has a much more ambitious goal in mind too.
Andrew Steeds’ pride in the collection of stories was evident when he showed me around and his passion for pushing the limitations of telling the story of migration was clear.
“We want to create a museum curated by the people, for the people,” Mr Steeds said.
“This is a great exhibition for us to be part of, and one that gives us a thrilling idea of what our museum might be like when we get the bricks and mortar for it.”
Walking in to the Royal Festival Hall, visitors are greeted by walls of brightly coloured cardboard discs, each of which tells a special story.
Visitors are encouraged to write their own stories of living in Britain to add to the massive, eclectic mix of stories that already exist in the project’s temporary home.
“Originally from Dublin, Ireland. I moved to London for love and better opportunities,” one person wrote.
“The love has now gone but the job remains and am building a life for myself here.”
This personal touch in the beginning is something that carries throughout the exhibition– the story of migration is told by the people themselves.
“We don’t want to tell the story,” Mr Steeds said. “We want the story to be told for us.”
“It’s not about the whole ‘oh, isn’t it great?’ aspect of migration, we want to tell the entire story – and that includes the more complicated ones.”
It is fair to say that Ireland’s relationship with Britain can come under the umbrella of “complicated” – and what better way to explore it than look at the migration of the Irish into Britain over the 20th century.
A glass cabinet in the centre of the first section of the exhibition is home to several Irish keepsakes.
This window to the past is enhanced by the more detailed story behind it of Paddy Hughes – a plasterer who moved to Lon- don in the 1940s and was one of the workers on the very building the exhibition was housed in.
Because the exhibition is in its early days, the Irish story is sadly unfinished – but exploring significant periods of the British-Irish history like the Great Famine, the 1916 Rising and the Troubles is something the curators of the Migration Museum Project would like to add.
“I would love to be telling a new story and your story, the 1916 one is, interesting because it’s quite complex as well,” Mr Steeds said.
“Telling those complicated stories is what we’re about and the 1916 centenary is one that has come up before – but it’s all down to funding.”
Limited resources meant I left the exhibition feeling as though a significant chunk of our story was missing – but the passion for telling the story of every migrant community in Britain is there.
Give it time and this will have our full story there for all to see.
See pictures of the exhibition here
Update August 27, 2015: A previous verion of this article referred to the Adopting Britain exhibition as the Migration Museum Project.