Multicultural Heritage Exhibition opens in Okehampton

Greta button, a volunteer at the Museum of Dartmoor Life with the new banners for the Telling Our Stories project. © Chris Saville

A new exhibition exploring and celebrating the multicultural heritage of Okehampton opened at the Museum of Dartmoor Life on Monday 26th October, 2020, but if you’ve missed it, never fear – from 2nd November the exhibition will be displayed around the town as a trail during November, 2020.

The exhibition marks the culmination of an 18 month project run by Devon Development Education and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Telling Our Stories, Finding Our Roots focuses on the diverse communities of Tiverton, Okehampton and Bideford, aiming to raise awareness of the vital contributions that people of different heritages have made to the towns throughout history – including today.

In Okehampton, the project has involved over a year of dedicated work by a team of community volunteers, and has included two focuses: historical research and oral history interviewing.

The team used archive materials such as old newspapers, property records, and historical photographs to unearth a wide range of historical stories that demonstrate the breadth of Okehampton’s past. Amongst other stories, the team have uncovered tales of Napoleonic Prisoners of War, local MPs and landed gentry who were compensated for the ownership of enslaved people and a range of groups who were offered safe refuge in the town.

One particularly significant research story is that of the World War II Polish Naval Camp, the remains of which can be found today on the site of the Rugby Club. An important record of the Polish Navy in Okehampton is a publication written in Polish called ‘The Book’. It was a gift to the Town Council from the Polish Naval Academy, and is currently being translated from Polish into English by a volunteer.

The project has also been collecting and recording the voices of contemporary Okehampton residents through conducting oral history interviews. Interviewees’ backgrounds have spanned the globe, reaching from Syria to the Philippines, Israel to Portugal, Trinidad to Egypt, and Cyprus to Poland.

Nicole Redfern, Project Coordinator, says of the project: “People have been coming to Okehampton from all over the world for hundreds of years. This exhibition shares their stories, and the voices of the people living here today – all of which are vitally important to the town’s identity and history, but which are not always known or heard.”

In addition to the public exhibition, the oral histories and historical research will be preserved online in a permanent digital archive, accessible to all. A set of learning resources will also be produced.

The Telling Our Stories exhibition opened on Monday 26th October, in the Courtyard of the Museum of Dartmoor Life, where it will stay for the half term week. From Monday 2nd November until Sunday 29th November, the exhibition banners will be redistributed around the town. You can see these at a range of town centre locations. Route maps are available at www.globalcentredevon.org.uk and on an introductory banner in
Red Lion Yard.

The exhibition has been made possible thanks to generous support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Okehampton United Charities and Okehampton Town Council.

Author: Ben Fox

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