The African Heritage and Arts Centre in Ashton has been bringing together the African community and people wanting to learn about Africa since 2018, and it remains one of the only places in the North where you can learn about the "real" Africa.
Africa is a continent that we seldom learn much about when we're at school. As a result, many people will be unfamiliar with the continent's 54 countries and the rich cultures and languages that are carried across the nations.
This is something that the team at West African Development (WAD) wanted to bring to Tameside. Originally set up in 2005, West African Development became a registered charity in 2009 and committed itself to working with people of West African origin specifically, with other BAME communities also receiving help.
The overarching aim of the group lies in integrating people from different backgrounds and minority ethnic groups to break social barriers and improve people's quality of life. The group holds cultural and educational events for their communities as well and has received funding from the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund on multiple occasions, which highlights the group's work in bringing awareness and education on Africa’s many diverse cultures.
The African Heritage and Arts Centre was set up at its current site in 2018 after many years of educating the community. Alade Sammi, chairman of the centre, told us more about how the story began: “We have almost nine trustees that we started with, and the centre was opened on 30th September. It took nearly six months to open it overall, and the aim is to show and share African heritage. We think there are an increasing number of ethic minorities moving to Tameside and the culture for us is something important that we are living with day to day.”
And Alade is right. Tameside Council's website gives us key statistics on the ethnic makeup of the borough, telling us that 6.65% of the population are Asian; 1.4% are mixed; 0.08% are black; and 0.2% of the population are other ethnicities. But this number is undoubtedly rising year on year as Britain gains a wider ethnic makeup.
With a growing population of BAME communities in Tameside, fellow member of WAD, Agnes Fough, raises the issue of the lack of education that people have on African culture and what Africa really is. In schools across Tameside, there is not much taught to children about the real Africa with the multiple cultures, languages, traditions and beliefs.
This is something that the team at WAD are looking to change. Agnes Fough told us: “Outside London this is a pilot project. It is the first of its kind around here. The education attached to this, there are so many Africans living around here that do not know anything about their own continent and there’s nothing like that in the school curriculum. We are filling a gap in it, so the children when they visit their own countries are not scared and know about the country they are from. They are lost without the knowledge. This is what West African Development is trying to solve.”
The centre's main aim is to educate the African community, but the wider scope is also educating everybody. Alade added: “It is also sharing cultural value. As Agnes said, it is important to feel you are part of these communities. The impact of the lack of cultural value is linked to hate crime and racism. So if you don’t show your cultural value this will happen. So, for example, to educate on our culture we delivered a programme in Holy Trinity School where we looked at the origins of chocolate, and nobody had seen it. We showed it from harvesting and many people said they could not believe it. We were able to show them the valuable contributions of Ghana and Africa as a whole to the school.”
With many activities and events run by the centre, the question of how it is funded came up. Alade told us: “This is a hardship moving forward with this project, as everything takes money. Our funding is from the Heritage Lottery Fund; we have worked with them for a very long time and have a strong relationship with them. This is the biggest thing that we have had funding for, and we were granted £100,000 for this centre. We built up our credit with the Lottery Fund to be able to get to where we are today.”
To find out more about the African Heritage and Arts Centre, visit them at 6 Brookdale Avenue, Ashton-Under-Lyne, or visit www.westafricandevelopment.org.uk