Brexit. Terrorism. Immigration.
Our newspapers and TVs are bombarded by these topics and the fear of people who are not ‘like us’. But what exactly is ‘like us’? What is Britishness or home to those of us living in the UK? Who has the right to enjoy the fruits of British labour? Is the UK a cultural melting pot or is the constant stream of migrants creating a pressure cooker situation?
These were some of the questions we set out to explore in a new project being run by Encompass volunteers in London, called ‘Belonging in Britain’.
Encompass works to challenge the innate judgments and prejudices that are held by differing communities all around the world. By working with young people from traditionally divided groups in countries such as Israel, Palestine and Indonesia, they work to prove that our common humanity is a stronger force for unity than the hate that divides us. This program brings that same idea to our home shores.
With 2017 coming to a close, we marked the year’s end by coordinating a workshop that brought together people from many different backgrounds, all of whom now call the UK home. The workshop took a closer look how our individual identities interact with the broader British identity, to shape each of our unique experiences of life here in the UK.
Eleven volunteers came together to participate in the day’s activities. These young people spanned a range of ages, ethnicities, religious and cultural backgrounds, to ensure we would have a variety of differing perspectives on the topics at hand.
All were current residents of the UK, from short-term workers and students, all the way through to those that have lived in Britain from birth. They included a PhD student from Holland, a digital entrepreneur from India, a couple of Australians and a Finn, to name a few. And of course, we welcomed a number of native Britons.
The workshop program was designed and faciliated by Helen Bartlett and Encompass alumnus Yair Seri, and run and used a range of activities geared towards sparking engaging debate on the topic, and helping each of us to really expand on our own opinions. Some of the prompt questions included:
Who really ‘belongs’ in Britain?
Who among us feel that Britain is our home?
How do the concepts of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ relate in this context?
Who has the right to call themselves British?
The day was filled with colourful brainstorms, comedic role-plays, thought-provoking debates and more than a few laughs - the whole group singing a (slightly re-imagined) version of God Save the Queen was a particularly interesting moment!
But along with all the fun, we were also challenged by each other and ourselves, as we drilled deep down into each of our individual concepts of home and belonging, and really analysed our relationships to this country we now call our home. And perhaps more importantly, our relationships to the other people in it.
At the end of the day, we were asked to sum up our experience in one brief reflection. The results were incredibly varied, and showed how the discussion had resonated with everyone in completely different ways. These, alongside portraits of some of the participants, are shared below.
Over the coming weeks, we will also share with you individual perspectives from two of the workshop participants, to give a more personal perspective on the day and it’s impact on each individual.
Following the success of the workshop, we will now be moving into the next phase of the Belonging project. This will be a photography project that explores the concept of Britishness through images of some of Britain’s most iconic institutions, and the people behind them. Watch this space!
Belonging is about your home, whether it is a place, a person, a community or even a feeling.
Our time together was fleeting, but I'm glad to have been able to open a small window on understanding this space of belonging.
We have only scratched the surface.
Today has been interesting.
I probably am very British although it sometimes feels at odds with who I am.
British was conquerors, empire, tea and tyranny.
Now, to be British is to be a part of a melting pot.
If London British then I’m down.
I belong in Hackney Wick because everyone belongs here.
I belong here for now but I feel like it could turn on me at any time.
The definitions of belonging and Britishness have many layers and is not always as simple as I first imagined it to be, which also makes me wonder how important it is for people to feel British.
Be proud of who you are and where you come from but allow others to do the same.