Speaking for Ourselves

Community ambassadors ‘offer new perspectives’ at the Wallace Collection

Community ambassadors ‘offer new perspectives’ at the Wallace Collection

The Cityzen Voice

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Community ambassadors ‘offer new perspectives’ at the Wallace Collection

The members of the public who came to the Wallace Collection on the 19-21 June 2019 had a unique experience and learned a lot through community ambassador tours led by refugees and asylum seekers.

This was also a unique experience for the community ambassadors themselves, for whom it was the first time being tour guides and engaging with the great gallery Hertford House, better known as the Wallace Collection.

The Wallace Collection put a lot of resources into successfully organising this project, which allowed 10 community ambassadors to present one of the works in the collection. These volunteer tour guides were refugees and asylum seekers who discovered the Wallace Collection through its project partners, the Jesuit Refugee Service and the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants.

The Wallace Collection houses an extensive array of paintings, furniture, sculptures, porcelain, and other objects collected in the 18th and 19th centuries.

After three months of intensive training, including learning the history of the Wallace Collection - its buildings, its founders and objects – as well as learning how to construct a vocabulary on art history, the community ambassadors chose several objects and did research on them before choosing their favourite.

As a result of their research the volunteers delivered presentations to the public on their chosen objects during Refugee Week 2019.

“It’s really incredible,” said Vanessa Weibel, Senior Manager of Education, Community Program, at the Wallace Collection[U1] . “I can’t believe how brave the tour guides are, to be doing tours in front of so many people when English isn’t their first language! And they were so passionate about their objects, and so knowledgeable. It’s really inspiring.

"Thanks to intensive training and hard work, both at the museum and independently, […] they have built an impressive profile within the museum, and with our visitors.”

She continued: "They offered new perspectives, different skills and a new interpretation, which are welcome."


What next?

The Wallace Collection staff have worked with refugees and asylum seekers since 2012 and Vanessa is therefore very aware of the value that participants from these communities can add to programs and projects.

The goal is to continue to create and enhance a framework for ambassadors to develop communication, presentation and English skills, learn new things, meet new people, expand networks and to increase their well-being and their employability, where appropriate.

The second phase of the project will start from July before the great finale in December 2019. The Wallace collection will run a series of workshops to reinforce the skills built among the ambassadors who will also have the opportunity to continue their ESOL training.

Through this programme, refugees and asylum seekers are recognised as a group who can make an important contribution to the advancement of the United Kingdom.

The ambassadors said they enjoyed the experience of giving the Refugee Week tours very much and are ready to continue the activity.

One of them said: “For me it was a great experience. It was the first time to walk into a great gallery like the Wallace Collection. When I started the research about the painting I chose as my object I learned how many messages are in them and that paintings are an expression of life, of the mind of the artist and their environment.

“Giving the tour to the public was wonderful because it was my first time to speak in front of people in English, which is not my first language, and I felt very good that people listened to me. It was an occasion to develop my skills in public speaking.

“Finally I felt peace. The painting I chose addressed social order, the image of peace and the expression of nature and all these remind me of my country and the situation there and the expression of peace in this painting is what I want for my country.”