From City Of Empire To City Of Diversity: A Visual Journey

In October 2020, we were delighted to announce that funding was awarded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund for us to curate two major photographic exhibitions and an extensive citywide community engagement programme to coincide with the Commonwealth Games 2022 in Birmingham.

Working in partnership with Birmingham Archives, Library of Birmingham and University of Birmingham, our major new heritage project, From City Of Empire To City Of Diversity: A Visual Journey will be created from The Dyche Collection, one of the most important photographic collections within Birmingham Archives and acquired by Birmingham Central Library in 1990. It will document post-1945 migration and the huge contribution made by those who settled in the city from the Commonwealth.

The Dyche Collection features photographs by self-taught photographer Ernest Dyche and his son Malcolm, who had two studios in the city and produced individual, group, family and wedding portraits. In the 1950s, the portrait work shifted its focus to the first wave of migrants arriving in Birmingham from Africa, the Caribbean and Indian sub-continent. For over 25 years, many visitors to his main studio would have portraits made to send back to friends and family in their home countries – inadvertently capturing the story of Commonwealth migration, and recording an important phase in Birmingham’s history.

Our Executive Director, Sabra Khan says: “We’re delighted to be working in partnership with Birmingham Archives, Library of Birmingham and University of Birmingham to bring to life these important photographs reflecting the incredible contribution Commonwealth communities have made to the City.”

To highlight the reality of life for immigrants from the Commonwealth countries making a new life in the city, From City Of Empire To City Of Diversity: A Visual Journey will use the Dyche collection and draw upon other collections held by Birmingham Archives, notably Benjamin Stone, Helen Caddick, Paul Hill, Nick Hedges, Vanley Burke and George Hallet. A smaller exhibition will tour to libraries and arts centres across the region. In addition to an event and talks programme, there will be also be a schools engagement programme and opportunities for volunteers to develop skills and learning around archive research and exhibition curation.

Anne Jenkins, Director, England, Midlands & East at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, says: “The role of migrants arriving in Birmingham post-1945 and the important contributions that they made have played a significant role in shaping the culture and heritage of the city. Inclusive heritage is very important to us at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which is why we are proud to support Sampad to showcase the important Dyche Collection through these major exhibitions and their accompanying activities. This will illuminate and acknowledge a lesser-known aspect of Birmingham’s heritage and broaden understanding in the wider community.”

From City Of Empire To City Of Diversity: A Visual Journey officially launched on Thursday 29 October 2020, from 4-5.30pm on Sampad’s Facebook page as part of Black History Month. It was hosted by our Executive Director, Sabra Khan, and featured an online discussion with speakers, providing an opportunity for audiences to find out more about the importance of this collection and how they can get involved in the project.

The panel included:

  • Jim Ranrahan, Archivist
  • Professor Ian Grosvenor, Co-Curator (Professor of Urban Education History and Director of the Voices of War and Peace Centre at the University of Birmingham)
  • Rita McLean, Co-Curator (Museums and Heritage Consultant and former Director of Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery)
  • Maryam Wahid (award-winning photographer whose work explores her identity as a British Pakistani Muslim woman).

Watch The Official Launch Video

Councellor Jayne Francis, Birmingham City Council, adds: “This is a really exciting award which will enable us to work with Sampad to preserve this important collection of images, demonstrating their relevance to our diverse modern city whilst showcasing the international nature of Birmingham’s collections at a time when the world will be watching the Commonwealth Games taking place here.”


Images: Dyche Collection, Reproduced by permission of the Library of Birmingham.

Current activity

If you would like to get involved and volunteer or have information that can help with the archive, please contact (0121 446 3266).

This project is supported by:

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and support from The Cole Charitable Trust

Made possible thanks to #NationalLottery players!