Amgueddfa Blog: National Waterfront Museum

For me and the rest of the staff at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea, it seems inconceivable that 15 years have passed since we welcomed our first visitors on the 17th of October 2005. Although in human terms being 15 is well on the way to being a ‘grown-up’, for everyone at the Waterfront Museum, we still feel very young, fresh and experimental.

I think there are a number of reasons for this.

First, our visitors are from a wide range of backgrounds and their motivation for visiting is varied. Of the quarter of a million visits the Waterfront Museum receives each year, a good proportion are first time visitors from outside the south-west of Wales. They are particularly attracted by innovative displays that tell the human story of Welsh industrialisation over the past three centuries with key objects from the collections of Amgueddfa Cymru and the City of Swansea explained through interactive interpretation. But although part of the family of Wales’ national museums, the Waterfront Museum is also very much a local museum, and most of the rest of our visitors are ‘regulars’, returning time and again to see the many temporary exhibitions devised or hosted by us each year, or attend the 300 or so free events and hands-on activities that form such an important part of our annual programme.

Second, the Waterfront Museum is a vast storehouse of materials and opportunities for learning and inspiration. In the same way that images can tell many stories, historic artefacts are points of departure, not fixed destinations for understanding, feelings and creativity. So the museum’s learning programmes for all ages always have an inter-disciplinary approach with lots of human stories and fun. Our unofficial motto is, ‘Try anything once, so long as it’s legal and safe’!

Third, the Waterfront Museum plays an important part in the wider cultural and economic life of the Swansea region. Many organisations and communities use the museum for meetings, a location in which to communicate their work to a wider public, or as a place for celebration. The museum is also a venue that can be hired for weddings, private and corporate meetings and entertaining. Here its central location, stunning architecture and fascinating displays really help to make these events so special.

Fourth, the Waterfront Museum has always been committed to the furthering the social purpose of our heritage. We have consistently worked to use our collections and facilities to help strengthen community identities, make newcomers to Swansea feel welcome and help disadvantaged people realise their potential by gaining skills and fostering ambition and self-respect.

And last, but by no means least, the Waterfront has always been blessed with amazing staff. We aim to appoint ‘people’ people, who enjoy welcoming our visitors, are helpful and knowledgeable and are great at working together as a dynamic team. Besides being great at their ‘official’ jobs, many possess other skills that we have been able to draw upon, especially in our events and learning programmes.

So what of the future? Despite the current difficulties with the Covid19 pandemic we are sure that the next fifteen years shall be as exciting and rewarding as the last fifteen. The redevelopment of the city centre and especially the new arena nearby will provide great opportunities to engage with different audiences. The ever-expanding online digital world will present us with many new ways to celebrate Welsh industry and innovation of both the past and today to a global audience. It is also likely that the experiences of the last eight months will make us all appreciate even more the delights of experiencing ‘real’ things in a place like the Waterfront Museum that is so equipped as a place for people to meet, engage with one another, learn and have fun.

 

At the National Waterfront Museum our aim is to bring the story of Wales, its people and the industries that have shaped our nation to life for school pupils through hands-on, unique experiences. For the past 15 years we have been part of an innovative collaboration with experienced theatre company, Theatr na nÓg, Swansea Museum and Technocamps. It is a partnership like no other in Wales, if not the UK. It combines live theatre, local and national museum collections with Technocamps’ expertise.   

This year marks 80 years since the sinking of the Arandora Star, whose tragic, little-known story will be vividly brought to life for school pupils across Wales through Theatr na nÓg’s radio play. Sadly 805 people lost their lives, including Welsh Italians who were onboard, on their way to internment camps in Canada. This year’s play will focus on Lina, a young girl living in Swansea facing an uncertain future after Italy joins the War in 1940. Her father is taken from their little Swansea café and transported on the Arandora Star.

Normally at this time of year we would be busy getting the final detail of our workshops together, ready to welcome thousands of school children through the Museum doors but 2020 has been very different for us all. With Covid-19 and the lockdowns that followed, delivering our normal workshops seemed impossible. However, this has challenged us to be more creative and has pushed our small team to develop a digital workshop comprised of short films and teachers’ resource to complement the radio play, The Arandora Star, focusing on the story of technology and innovation during the Second World War. 

So in our online workshops, learners will meet Captain Edward Morgan of the Royal Navy who will guide them through some information about the sinking of the Arandora Star and discuss some innovative communication technology that was used during the Second World War. Alongside this we have developed a teacher's resource with activities and suggestions for further work, all of which supports the new Curriculum for Wales 2022.  

We'll be celebrating the re-opening of the National Waterfront Museum after more than four months in verse, with a specially commissioned poem about life in lockdown, woven through by your words. This week, we're launching a campaign to get our visitors, fans, and community to contribute words and phrases for what will become a poetic legacy of these unprecedented times for the city and surrounding area.

All being well, on 28th August, we'll be unlocking the museum's doors and look forward to welcoming you all back, albeit on a pre-booked, ticketed (free ticket) entry basis, to manage numbers and maintain social distancing measures.

2020 marks the National Waterfront Museum’s 15th anniversary. When it opened in October 2005, it was to the words of a poem by the then National Poet of Wales, Gwyneth Lewis. So, for the unlocking of the doors this August, we want to conjure words, rhythms and rhymes once more, this time with your help!

Datgloi ~ Unlock will be a poetic celebration of the unlocking of our doors. We're asking the community of Swansea, our visitors and fans to let us know two things, each in 280 characters, which is the length of a tweet:

  • Describe your experience of lockdown (ANSWER IN 280 characters or less)
  • Why are you looking forward to the re-opening of the National Waterfront Museum? (ANSWER IN 280 characters or less)

Those wishing to get involved and submit their thoughts and words are invited to do so via the museum’s Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/waterfrontmuseum 

or by Tweeting @the_waterfront and using #DatgloiUnlock

or by emailing us on DatgloiUnlock@museumwales.ac.uk

Through this project, our aim is to gather a sense of the lock-down experience for the people of Swansea and the region, and to understand what re-opening the museum will mean for you. The commissioned poets, Aneirin Karadog and Natalie Ann Holborow will then take these statements and craft them into two poems, one in Welsh, the other in English.

Speaking about the project, the Head of the National Waterfront Museum, Steph Mastoris said:

“Over the coming weeks, we’ll be engaging our local audiences and followers through social media and asking them to share a phrase or two about lockdown and what they’re most looking forward to seeing / doing when our museum reopens. Our commissioned poets will then use these words and phrases as the basis and inspiration for their poems, so that they reflect the experiences of our community during lockdown, and celebrate the unlocking of our museum, which over the past 15 years has found it’s place at the heart of the city’s community.”

The poets commissioned for this project both have strong connections with the Swansea area. 

Aneirin Karadog who will compose the Welsh language poem for Datgloi ~ Unlock

Aneirin Karadog is a poet, broadcaster, performer and linguist. He was brought up in Llanrwst before moving to Pontardawe in the 1980s

He graduated from New College, Oxford University, with a degree in French and Spanish. His mother is Breton and his father is Welsh; he can speak Welsh, English, Breton, French and Spanish fluently.

Aneirin is a familiar face on S4C, and a chaired bard of the National Eisteddfod (2016). He composes poetry on a range of metres from syncopatic rap to the ancient and fiendishly difficult Welsh language form, cynghanedd, and his work has been published widely.

Natalie Ann Holborow who will create the English language poem for Datgloi ~ Unlock

Natalie Ann Holborow is proud to be from Dylan Thomas’ hometown.

She is the multi award-winning Welsh writer whose debut collection, 'And Suddenly You Find Yourself' (Parthian, 2017) was listed as one of Wales Arts Review's 'Best of 2017' and was launched at the International Kolkata Literary Festival. She is a finalist for the Cursed Murphy International Spoken Word award and her second collection, 'Small', will be published by Parthian in 2020.

We're grateful to Literature Wales who advised and helped us set up this project. The poems will be unveiled at the opening of the National Waterfront Museum, planned for 28 August.

The National Museum of Wales is currently collecting reflections and memories of Covid 2020. Find out more about our Collecting Covid: Wales 2020 project here: www.museum.wales/collecting-covid/

 

For Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum of Wales' craft week, we've been asking our teams to share their passion for craft. Here, Head of the National Waterfront Museum, Steph Mastoris shares a little about his passion for letterpress.

Throughout my working life (and a bit before) I have been fascinated by the craft of letterpress printing –that messy process of covering metal and wooden type with ink and then squeezing a sheet of paper onto the surface to make a beautiful, clean impression. Although it sounds a simple thing to do, it actually requires much trial and error before a uniform and correctly-positioned impression of the type can be made repeatedly to create a leaflet or book. This also doesn’t sound very relaxing, but like most crafts it is totally absorbing and a wonderful way to give your mind a break from the day-job.

The biggest problem for anyone wanting to print by letterpress is that there is quite a lot of equipment needed just to get started, and it took me about ten years to find an affordable little press, type and all the bits and pieces to hold the assembled words together for printing. But printers are a friendly bunch and generous in giving advice and help to people like me who had no training in this inky art.

Steph Mastoris' work at the On the Brink show.

Like many amateur printers I started by making my own Christmas cards or type-works for special occasions such as weddings or christenings, using lovely old wooden type that is easy to set and gives a very textured impression, especially when printed on dampened hand-made paper. These I printed at first on an old office ‘nipping press’ (designed originally for copying hand-written letters before photocopiers were invented), then I acquired a proofing press from a prison workshop and then, in the early 1990s, a beautiful cast-iron Albion printing press came my way. This had been made in the late 1860s from an original design of about 1820 and still prints perfectly today. 

A few years after I moved to Swansea in 2004 to help set up the National Waterfront Museum I was lucky to join the Elysium Studios –a dynamic artist-led co-operative in the heart of the city. The additional space this provided meant that I could use proper metal type in my work. More importantly, having somewhere to print that was not on the kitchen table, which had to be cleared away for meals, meant that I could my take time to think through my work and move beyond just making pretty texts.

One of Steph Mastoris' letterpress triptychs displayed at an exhibition

As a result of this new-found freedom and the opportunity to talk with practicing artists I have become interested in using letterpress printing to explore the subtleties of language where punctuation, form and layout can change or create ambiguities of meaning. At its simplest the aesthetics and tonal impact of hand-printed wood type can be radically altered by enlarging it several hundred per cent. More subtly I use small typographic triptychs to draw the viewer’s attention to the three-dimensional quality of language that arises when similar-sounding words and the different silences between them are exhibited in plain, hand-printed type.

 

 

In 2017 the National Waterfront team undertook ‘Asylum Seeker and Refugee Awareness Training'. What they learned inspired them to engage further with local refugee communities. An active programme of engagement, support and participation, created in partnership with local refugees and support agencies was developed to welcome and help integrate refugees and those seeking asylum into the community. This has included hosting a monthly support group, sewing and creative writing classes, a ballet class for children seeking sanctuary, for which local dance schools donated spare shoes and leotards, and two exhibitions: Chips, Curry Cappuccino and Young, Migrant and Welsh from the Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team Wales.

In recognition of this work, in June of 2018 the National Waterfront Museum became the UK’s first Museum of Sanctuary. What follows is an edited blog, written by museum curator Ian Smith in 2017 about the museums’ learning journey. It has been updated to reflect today’s statistics on refugees and asylum seekers worldwide.

Wales is culturally diverse from three hundred years of industrial heritage and a history of people coming here for work in mining and quarrying, dock yards and heavy industry. Lately jobs in tourism, modern industry and students coming to study at our universities make us a melting pot of cultures. Swansea has been at the heart of multicultural Wales since the industrial revolution, a place where people of different races, cultures and faiths have lived side by side for centuries. It is a city that has benefited from the vibrancy and creativity of a multicultural population. Unsurprisingly with this background, Swansea became a ‘City of Sanctuary’ in 2010, the second one in the UK after Sheffield.

Part of my job is in the Public History Team for Amgueddfa Cymru. This means we actively seek out different groups and individuals in the community and gather their stories and history. Through my job I have met people who have been displaced from their homeland for various reasons and are seeking safety and shelter.

So, when in May 2017, I attended ‘Asylum Seeker and Refugee Awareness’ training at the Waterfront Museum as part of our staff training, I thought I was fairly clued up about the subject.

The training was delivered by a lady working for Swansea City of Sanctuary and another lady who was an asylum seeker and she told us about her personal experiences.

It’s strange, we see stuff on the TV and news and read stories in the papers and get a picture in our heads about a situation but very often is only half a story. Learning factual numbers and hearing personal testimony made me realise how far off the mark I was, how little I knew.

For instance, we were asked to rank the top ten countries of the world in order of which ones take the most refugees. As a group we managed to name one or two correctly.

Today the countries that host the largest numbers of refugees are : Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Uganda.

Surprised? I was. The UK, Germany or France don’t make the top ten even though I was convinced they would as it seems to make headlines on a regular basis in our media. The biggest refugee camp in the world is Cox’s Bazar in Southern Bangladesh, which houses nearly a million Rohingya people who have fled their home country of Myanmar.  

We learned what the difference is between an asylum seeker and a refugee. Both are displaced persons – they have had to leave their country of origin for lots of different reasons; war, religious beliefs, persecution or sexual orientation.

An asylum seeker is a person who is fleeing persecution in their home country, has come to the UK and made themselves known to the authorities. They then exercise their legal right to apply for asylum. If they are granted asylum here then they have ‘refugee’ status.

I found out that many of these desperate people are brought to Europe and the UK by traffickers and quite often have no idea which country they are in. Most are stripped of belongings and passports so have no way of proving who they are, their age and marital status etc. when questioned by the authorities.

After assessment and a screening interview, if the person becomes an asylum seeker they then have to wait until their case is further assessed to get refugee status or be rejected. At any time during this process people can be subject to detention, deportation or destitution. Destitution means having no recourse to public funds, having no money and nowhere to live.

Asylum seekers are dispersed all over the country and are given free accommodation in private lettings. They are not allowed to work. They receive a maximum of £37.75 a week per person - £5.39 a day for food, toiletries, everyday needs and travel. As asylum seekers have to regularly sign in at an immigration office, which can be some distance from where they live, a day’s money can be used up in bus fares.

The application process can take years for a person to get a decision on refugee status and the onus is on the asylum seeker to prove persecution of an ongoing threat and not a one off occurrence.

For many this period in limbo can be very difficult. The lady we spoke to told us to imagine you suddenly found yourself in somewhere like China and couldn’t speak the language or understand the culture. Finding your way around and doing simple tasks is almost impossible. For example, she told us her and her two young children were placed in a house in Swansea on a cold January day. The house was cold, it had central heating but she had never seen central heating controls before and didn’t know how to work it. This lady was a psychologist in her own country but her qualifications are useless in the UK. She told us that even with all these problems she felt safe here, which was all she wanted for her family.

After the process is completed and refugee status is granted, as refugees they have the right to work and apply for family reunification. If refugee status is not granted there are a number of avenues for appeal but ultimately if status is not granted then the person can be deported.

After listening to the trainer and hearing the stories of asylum seekers I was left with a helpless feeling inside me. Every story we heard made me think ‘what if that was me and my family?’ and how grateful we would be to find somewhere to feel safe. The biggest point I took away from the morning was: Refugees are just people like you and me who had jobs, housing, education and good standards of living, suddenly taken away from them through no fault of their own. They just need the chance to start over again without fear.

In the year ending March 2020, the UK offered protection – in the form of asylum, humanitarian protection, alternative forms of leave and resettlement – to 20,339 people

The Waterfront continues to work with local refugee and asylum seeker groups, and to welcome new friends from across the world to our Swansea community.