Mark Gorman, local historian and volunteer, gives some background and context to Newham Heritage Month’s online festival.
Newham Heritage Month
I’d like to welcome you on behalf of the volunteer team to Newham’s third annual heritage festival, a month-long celebration of the borough’s amazingly diverse heritage and culture.
When Heritage Month was planned for this year by the council, activities at venues across the borough were on the programme. The Coronavirus pandemic has caused those plans to be changed, so this year Newham Heritage Month has a different look. With funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Royal Docks Team, the programme had to move online, with new events available through a dedicated website throughout the month.
The programme still includes a wealth of arts and drama activities, talks and workshops for all ages, as well as opportunities to take part in virtual tours of historic areas of the borough. Events are being organised by local community groups as well as individuals, all drawing on this year’s theme of ‘making a home in Newham’, celebrating the diversity of Newham’s communities through hundreds of years of migration. My co -volunteers Sandra Besson and Peter Williams, have written a blog about their time in Newham’s Archives which you can read here and there is a great article on Prefabs in Newham by Peter online too.
Most of us who live in the borough are people who came from elsewhere. For 2000 years or more, people have come from all over the world to make their home in the place that has become Newham. Traces of Roman and Anglo-Saxon settlements have been found locally, evidence of how far back people were coming to live here. In more recent times people have come from all over the world.
After 1800 Irish migrants came to find work in the newly-built docks and industries along the Thames and the Lea. They were followed by Jewish emigrants from eastern Europe, and in the last century by arrivals from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. In the last few decades more have come from Europe, further helping to make Newham one of the most diverse boroughs in the UK, a place where well over 100 languages are spoken.
All of these people came to find somewhere where they could live, work and settle, often bringing their families or joining others who came before them. Some who came have been fleeing persecution in their own countries. Many left their homelands to seek a better life. All who came were needed here, working in factories, helping keep London’s transport moving and providing their skills as health workers and teachers, among many other occupations.
All of them have made Newham’s heritage into a rich weave, with many threads. These include the physical reminders of the borough’s industrial past such as the Three Mills site on the river Lea, and there are the languages, traditions, music and memories of Newham’s many communities.
Newham Heritage Month is a celebration of this diversity. This year there has also been an opportunity to remember the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, a global conflict in which the Commonwealth countries played a critical part. Indeed, many who came to make their homes in Newham came because they were helping in the war effort. Memories of VE Day have been shared on the Newham Heritage Month website, so we have an opportunity for a twin celebration of our shared past.
Beyond the month long programme in June, the National Lottery Heritage Fund is committed to working with the borough’s many groups to unlock the potential offered by Newham’s heritage to define our sense of place and sense of community. The aim is to establish our shared history and heritage as part of the identity of Newham, London’s most diverse borough.
If you would like to volunteer as a resident in London Borough of Newham on projects as diverse as befriending, outside gardening or archive support you can join the Active Newham scheme, a supported volunteer programme that welcomes new applications.