Dagenham students turn curators at Valence House

PUBLISHED: 13:00 10 April 2016

History Teachers Sam Norwood and Katy Staten have helped Robert Clack School Year 10 students curate their own exhibition, which will launch at Valence House next Thursday

History Teachers Sam Norwood and Katy Staten have helped Robert Clack School Year 10 students curate their own exhibition, which will launch at Valence House next Thursday


The hurling of chilli flakes at racist aggressors is just one of the family memories brought together in an exhibition celebrating heritage.

A display launching next Thuursday at Valence House sees students become curators, as budding historians at Robert Clack School in Dagenham examine their heritage through the themes of borders, identity and discrimination.

The original idea came about in a final lesson before May half term last year. Year 9 students had finished their syllabus when history teacher Sam Norwood suggested they asked each other about their family history.

“What came out was so fascinating, and it quickly became apparent that they had so much to say that we had never been able to explore,” he said.

Students then went away and interviewed family members, before producing stories which ended up being collated into a book by English Heritage.

Nearly one year on and the same students – now in Year 10 – have curated their own exhibition.

Alongside framed stories exploring the heritage of youngsters from everywhere from Ethopia to Scotland, sit precious objects linked to their personal histories. These include a clock with a map of Jamaica, a series of carved elephants from India, and students’ own artwork.

“What’s been interesting is that students have started thinking more, talking about our local area and it’s specific culture,” said Sam, who led the project with fellow history teacher Katy Staten.

“We have spent a lot of time thinking about what this says about our our culture generally and what it means to be proud of British culture.

One student’s story tells how her granddad, a Pakistani Ilford lad, was regularly picked on by “skinheads” in the area. He is circled by three agressors before he reaches for his last resort weapon.

“My granddad reached for his pockets, grabbed a handful of chilli powder and threw it into the air and sprinted home. One skinhead held his eyes in agony and the other two rushed to his care. They were defeated.”

“They are a remarkable group of young people,” said Sam.

He added: “A lot of students feeel that they as young people in Dagenham are double stereotyped against. Firstly as young people who aren’t doing anything and also as people who aren’t interested in their history. They also feel they’re stereotyped just as people from Dagenham.`

“So they’re thinking now not only about culture and what it means to them but a more positive way to represent themselves.”

The exhibition runs from 10am-4pm from tomorrow until May 28. Admission is free. Ring 020 8227 2034 for more information.

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