Multaka project wins Collections Trust Award 2019

An award-winning project at the History of Science Museum and Pitt Rivers Museum has received further recognition for its work creating volunteering opportunities for forced migrants.

Multaka-Oxford was named winner of the 2019 Collections Trust Award at a ceremony on Thursday 12 September. The annual award recognises the often unsung achievements of those who manage museum collections.

Family-friendly activity at a Multaka event

Volunteer Safaa Koubaji runs family-friendly activity at a Multaka event

Multaka – which means meeting point in Arabic – uses the collections of the two Oxford University museums as a meeting point to bring people together. Working in partnership with local community organisations including Asylum Welcome and Refugee Resource, the museums have recruited a team of over 50 volunteers and have been supporting them learn new skills and gain work experience.

The volunteers – many of whom have recently arrived in the UK from countries including Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Zimbabwe and Sudan – are working with museum staff to run tours of the collections in Arabic and English, plan and deliver events, co-curate displays, enhance collections documentation and manage social media channels.

Since the project was established two years ago, Multaka-Oxford has welcomed 56 volunteers, who have given over 1,200 hours of their time. 20 new volunteer roles have been created, from tour guides to collection researchers, and over 1,800 people have attended events and tours run by the volunteers.

In just a relatively short period, the project has deeply affected the lives of everyone involved with it. ‘Working with the volunteers has transformed our practice,’ says Rachel Harrison, Volunteer & Community Engagement Coordinator at the museums. ‘It’s made us reflect on how we can be more inclusive in everything we do.’

Multaka event at the History of Science Museum

Volunteer Waed Alawad describes the workings of an astrolabe

And for the volunteers, Multaka has not only provided on-the-job training and work experience, but has also created a sense of inclusion and community. As Abdullah AlKhalaf, a Syrian volunteer, puts it: ‘Here at the museum we see we share a human history and culture. We see we are similar. The museum really is a multaka, a meeting point for culture.’

The impact of the award-winning project is set to continue in the future. Thanks to the generosity of individual donors and The Barakat Trust, funding has been secured for a further year.

Presenting the 2019 Collections Trust Award, Amisha Karia, Collections Trust board member and Head of Collection, Loans and Programming for Paintings in Hospitals, said: ‘This year we were looking for strong examples of ‘use-led’ project, with clearly identifiable outcomes and high levels of community participation. We certainly found that in Multaka.’

Rana Ibrahim, Collections Project Officer at the History of Science Museum, who accepted the award on behalf of the Multaka team, commented: ‘We’re absolutely delighted with the award. It is such an endorsement of the work of the museum teams and the volunteers.’