During Black History Month, Virtual Wellbeing have teamed up with Black Heritage Walks Network to showcase a series of black heritage walks within Birmingham. The virtual walks are part of our sensory walk series within the Active Communities programme, which supports communities to become more socially, physically and civically active. Heritage tours are easy to get involved in, a good way to be active while spending time outdoors, and help build connections to local place, people, and history.
What is the Black Heritage Network?
The Black Heritage Walks Network was set up in 2018 to highlight the achievements of the African Caribbean community in the UK. In particular, they wanted to capture the stories and history of the Windrush generation in Handsworth to mark the 70th anniversary of the HMT Empire Windrush carrying passengers from the Caribbean. They also found that despite having a large black population and rich heritage, Birmingham didn’t have any black heritage walks on offer at the time. Based on this, they decided to gather research, by speaking to local people, visiting archives and heritage sites, to create history walks from a British Afro Caribbean perspective.
The group have created a number of fascinating themed walks, including the Passion for Justice tour which highlights the story of Ida B Wells, a remarkable African American women who was a vocal feminist, activist, author and social reformer in Erdington during the mid-19th century. Wells revolutionised black history by shining a light on white domestic terrorism in the United States.
Another heritage walk, the 688th US Battalion – Black Women’s Army Corps, explores the story of 800 African American women who worked on the military postal service in Birmingham during the Second World War.
Celebrating Black History all year round
Black History Month is an annual celebration of Black history. Dawn Carr, from the Black Heritage Walks Network, explained that ‘For us there’s no such thing as Black History Month, we champion Black history all year round. We encourage the city, local community groups, and schools to do the same.’ The Black Heritage Walks network have observed an increased interest in, and support for, Black history this year, and have seen more commitment to continue the debate past Black History Month. Dawn explained that there is still a lot of work to do on improving the school curriculum, community engagement and awareness of Black British history.
Local heritage and place
The walks are a great opportunity to enjoy some exercise and fresh air, while also developing an understanding of local place, and community. While walking, the Black Heritage Walks Network encourage participants to take notice of local businesses and groups operating within the area. ‘It’s about building connections and gaining a whole new perspective, not just a black perspective, by looking at things you’ve driven or walked past in a new way’. A unique aspect of the heritage tours is that the participants add value to the research by sharing their own stories and experiences; rather than classroom style learning, the walks are interactive and immersive.
Oral histories can help foster a greater sense of pride and connection to place. Dawn explained that ‘heritage contextualises and grounds us. It gives us a sense of place and community’. She reflected that often people don’t know much about the contributions and initiatives that emerged from Birmingham. Sharing stories about local figures and places can encourage people to take notice of their area and inspire them to go and find out more.
How to get involved:
If you missed the livestream Virtual Wellbeing Black heritage walks that have happened so far, you can watch them on our Facebook page or by using the video finder on our website. Also, check out our other Virtual Wellbeing videos showcasing Black history and culture, including traditional cook along videos and Afro Beats dance classes.