As part of the OSCH project, Manchester Museum has recently recruited two new Cultural Learning and Participation Apprentices in order to help attract young people to the heritage and cultural sector. In part 2 of this series to celebrate International Museum Day, Baz Rashid, our Secondary and Post-16 Science Coordinator, reflects on the importance of these roles before handing over to Maya and Hawwa who describe how they came to apply for the Apprenticeships and why these new roles are so important for the Museum and sector more broadly.
Amongst young people there has, in general, been a poor uptake of Apprenticeships as they are perceived to be exploitative, very low wage, and with low career prospects. Indeed, this was confirmed through the small focus groups we held with young people: they would rather choose the further education route or move straight into employment than an Apprenticeship. We also discovered that young people would rather choose an Apprenticeship at a local supermarket than a museum as they would feel more comfortable in the former than the latter.
Through the planning and recruitment process, we aimed to address some of the concerns that young people had raised. Firstly, we offered our Apprentices at the Manchester living wage of £9.52 per hour (rather than an Apprentice wage of £4.52 per hour). To dispel some of the myths and concerns we had encountered around Apprenticeships and the museum sector, we held an online information evening for young people; creating a space to ask us questions about the Museum’s Apprenticeships and speak about future career prospects.
With the help of our training provider, Access College, colleagues at the University of Manchester and OSCH, we launched a 6-week long advertising campaign. Importantly, this included short videos, made by members of the Museum’s OSCH Young Peoples’ collective, to encourage young people to apply for the Apprenticeships. We ended up receiving 92 amazing applications from all over the country and from this we shortlisted 8 candidates to interview. As well as providing the candidates with the six interview questions in advance, we also asked them to prepare a short task about why had applied to the Apprenticeship, that they would present to the interview panel, combining staff from the Museum and the British Council, and one of the OSCH collective’s young people.
Over two days, we met eight inspiring and enthusiastic young people, from which we ended up choosing two amazing candidates to join the Museum to undertake an Apprenticeship in the role of Cultural Learning and Participation Officer. In what follows, Maya and Hawwa introduce themselves, reflect on what drew them to the Apprenticeships and share their hopes for these roles. First up is Maya:
My name is Maya and I’m a 17 year old 2nd generation British Bangladeshi Muslim. Both of my parents are Bangladeshi but my mum was born and brought up in Old Trafford, Manchester and my dad was born and brought up in a village in Chittagong, Bangladesh. I’m the second of four kids, all of us being 7 years apart (unintentionally) and yes, I do have 2nd child syndrome. Before this opportunity came up, I was studying Sociology, Psychology and Health & Social Care at Loreto College, and made the decision to leave to start the Apprenticeship. I was interested in Apprenticeships because they help prepare young people for the realities of the working world whilst also having an educational aspect to them.
Growing up as a Bangladeshi girl in Manchester, I found myself trying to lean away from my heritage and religion as a result of misrepresentation and underrepresentation. All I saw as a representation was South Asians taking all of the jobs, all Muslims being terrorists and never really anything positive. It was only when I got older that I became proud of my heritage and my religion and I didn’t hide away. Instead I took an interest in finding out more about South Asian history.
So when I saw the opportunity as a young person to work in a Museum, in a role catered to representation, young people and South Asian heritage, it felt – in the least cliché way possible – a perfect fit. From a young age, we would visit the Museum regularly, nearly every school holiday, but there was never any portrayal of South Asian history until the Jallianwala Bagh 1919: Punjab under Siege exhibition. When I saw this, it emphasised how little I knew about South Asian stories and history, and how little they are seen in places like museums, where they tend to be limited to very whitewashed, Eurocentric stories, that aren’t authentic.
The chance to be involved in changing how South Asian stories, culture, heritage and history are shown, is part of why I was interested in this Apprenticeship. I want to help improve these spaces by making them more inclusive and representative. I’m really excited about the whole Apprenticeship and being able to come up with ideas for different events and projects and carry them out. Overall I just hope that I can help make the Museum become a safe space for others and to have the representation that I never had growing up. This Apprenticeship is such a huge opportunity for positive change to be made and to extend out into more opportunities for more people to get involved in the future.
Next up is Hawwa:
As a Muslim South Asian history graduate who spent a significant amount of her degree exploring cultural and contested heritage, the way public history spaces are created, and the impact of arts and culture institutions on the development and understanding of an individual’s identity and relationship with belonging, my interest in museums was at an all-time low. The more I learnt, the more my sense of alienation and disconnection with these places grew. The history that I consumed in my own time, the culture that I lived, and the heritage that I interacted with, was in such a stark contrast to the traditional communications of [often Eurocentric] history that I was taught, or that I saw displayed in museums. Each time I stepped foot in a cultural institution, my heart sank. None of the staff I ever saw were people of colour, the objects and displays almost always privileged perspectives from the past that were (at differing levels), Eurocentric, or just simply European – as I always laughed with my friends, museums had ‘no spice’. My ability to learn about diverse histories and cultures was never made possible in a museum space, and that angered me. Surely the very existence of museums and cultural institutions was to provide this opportunity?
I can’t even describe the sense of happiness, comfort and relief when I first found out about, and got involved in the OSCH Collective (Our Shared Cultural Heritage). Led by Dr Sadia Habib and supported by Barinur Rashid (now my manager), OSCH offered to me what I have always wanted from a museum: a space, run by people of colour, for people of colour, to share their thoughts and opinions, run workshops and events, and discuss and raise awareness of anything related to their cultural heritage and history that they believed was important. It was my first time seeing brown faces amongst the Museum’s staff, and the community / culture of respect and care that they created for the OSCH Collective gave me hope that the negative image of museums that I always thought about, could change: that cultural institutions could genuinely become more accessible and inclusive and diverse (even if it was a slow process).
The opportunity to work on developing OSCH, to immerse myself in as many opportunities as possible within the heritage sector, and to run workshops and events and opportunities for young people, that I always wished were available for years, was an experience I knew I couldn’t say no to. The Cultural Learning and Participation Officer Apprenticeship that I am currently undertaking with Manchester Museum / OSCH – despite it only being my first week on the job – has already offered me so much excitement. The ability to step foot in a museum and feel a sense of belonging, even as a visitor, was something I never thought I would achieve, let alone being able to work in a museum as a staff member. The fact that I will be involved in creating spaces for young people to share their voices and ideas and run campaigns and events that they truly believe in, brings me so much joy and excitement. And the fact that I get to work with amazing managers who believe in me and share similar backgrounds to me, has meant my existence in the Museum already feels comfortable and supportive, despite the many barriers people of colour face in this industry.
We are delighted to be able to offer these two new Apprenticeship roles and see them as a vital part of our work, through the Our Shared Cultural Heritage project, to become a more inclusive, imaginative and caring museum. In this sense, we will be learning alongside Maya and Hawwa, and believe that this journey will enable us to be more relevant and resilient as an organisation, so watch this space (and keep an eye on the OSCH blog https://sharedculturalheritage.wordpress.com/) for updates and developments in the future.