‘Shared Spaces Nonference' take over at New Lanark World Heritage Site

Published: 29 November 2023

New Lanark and UNESCO RILA hosted a full-day event 'Shared Spaces: Migration Past & Present' across eight venues.

On Thursday 16th November, 2023, New Lanark and UNESCO RILA hosted a full-day event "Shared Spaces: Migration Past & Present " across eight venues. Participants were invited to engage in learning, interaction, and exploration of New Lanark's history, emphasising the theme of migration and the significance of shared spaces.

As part of UNESCO's response to Scottish designations, the event enriched understanding through artistic expressions and discussions. Aligned with the UNESCO Trail, it connected heritage sites and contributed to the Sites Unseen Project, fostering nuanced education about Scotland's diversity.

Shared Spaces encouraged participants to freely explore the venues, pop-up experiences, and the site without a fixed programme. This was highlighted by those in attendance, including Christian Hanser (PhD student and MSc tutor at the University of Edinburgh), who praised the fluidity and freedom of the schedule, stating that “there was no feeling of having missed out, but one of profound connection with other participants, artists, scholars, local visitors, tourists... Making the most of Shared Spaces does not require strict timetabling, but rather a welcoming atmosphere to immerse in, just as the day unfolds."

Prof Alison Phipps, UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts, summarised the nonference, stating:

Sharing Spaces is not easy but we can work together to make time to listen to hard histories, take time to make new memories, take time to craft with unusual materials and see this as part of our learning. [At] the UNESCO RILA Shared Spaces ‘take over’... this was very much our experience. A lot of beauty, a great deal of learning about the conflicted histories relating what cotton enabled for Scotland and who greed for cotton monies and development hurt. Bringing in the ghosts of chattel slaves, together with spaces for conversation around fires, and over coffee allowed us all to explore restorative methods for integration.

Shared Spaces Event Round-Up:

Exploring history, culture, and shared spaces, Shared Spaces offered a diverse range of events and activities:

Dr Stephen Mullen's keynote, Remembering Atlantic Slavery at New Lanark, initiated profound discussions on the historical connections between New Lanark and Caribbean slavery.

Julie Ward's Designs for a Common Room encouraged creative reimagining of shared spaces, fostering inclusivity through collaborative rule-making and engaging activities.

Considering cultural exchange and identity, Chinese Heritage in Multi-spaces of Multicultural Scotland by Dr Joseph Zhao, Dongwei Wang, and Dr. Siqi Zhang explored the dynamics of Chinese heritage in multicultural Scotland through calligraphy. Additionally, Dr Hyab Yohannes and Prof. Alison Phipps offered a sensory journey into Eritrean and Ethiopian cultures through The Eritrean Coffee Ceremony.

Centring on the theme of bridging communities, Erin Turner and Jess Shaw's Conversations With Migrants facilitated connections through shared food, historical recipes, and fireside chats, fostering understanding between diverse cultures, and Newark Primary's Stop Racism: We Are All Special addressed racism through an animated film, amplifying the voices of affected pupils and promoting anti-racist change.

Migration and Theatre: Wheel of Fortune by World Spirit Theatre provided a captivating forum theatre play, engaging the audience in discussions on the complexities of the UK immigration system.

Multimedia performance Common Ground: Stories of Shared Spaces in the UK by Dr Azadeh Fatehrad weaved tales of migration and community through live storytelling, visuals, and music.

Focusing on creative expression and connection, the wet felting workshop This is How We Felt led by Dr Alison Mayne and Dr Sarah Stewart offered a unique expression of connection to places through creative activities. Additionally, Maaike Siegerist's storytelling songs and "The Welcome Hut" (a mobile shepherd's hut) fostered spontaneous encounters and storytelling.

Finally, Dr Julie McAdam's Unpacking the Suitcase of Stories provided a reflective closure, encouraging participants to explore their identity through artifacts and emphasise the importance of creating and protecting spaces for storytelling. Of her keynote she shared:

I spent some time pondering how to explore the notion of a closing keynote with me doing the talking when the entire day had been about shared talk. I knew I also wanted to speak about the power of story to ‘…interpret the world, the past, contemporary situations and ways of envisioning the future (Selbin, 2010:26).  This led me to Amma Osha, a picturebook written by Fatima Sharafeddine and illustrated by Hanan Al Qa’I... The themes of silence and erasure within the book had the potential to create points of collective reflection for the day. They allowed us to probe the impact of being silenced on specific communities and voices and for us to prepare our own talk or stories that resonated with the events, moments, and experiences of the day. The book provided a way for me to deliver a keynote through story with an awareness of the multiple voices in the room.

The nonference seamlessly wove together thematic explorations, offering participants a diverse and cohesive journey of understanding, connection, and reflection on shared spaces. Overwhelming feelings of gratitude for the event and to the organisers were shared by attendees, with Joseph Zhao (Tutor in Urban Studies, University of Glasgow) expressing that the day was a "thought-provoking chance... as a university teacher from a minority community to reflect on my own practices and trajectories. It has been such an inspiring and warm group of people, with innovative ideas and intriguing stories. Thank you, the organisers, for creating this wonderful opportunity."

First published: 29 November 2023

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