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Bringing the Brilliance of Beeston into focus

Artist and Trainee Art Psychotherapist Thahmina Begum has lived in Beeston all her life so it was a natural decision to create work for our ‘My World My City My Neighbourhood’ commissions, a chance to work closely in and involve her local community.

I love Beeston, I’m so proud to be from here. It’s an area that has seen a lot of changes but that has a strong identity and history within Leeds. ‘My World My City My Neighbourhood’ was set up to celebrate local communities, something I feel incredibly strongly about, and so it was then just about picking out what stories we could tell and how.

The first thing that I wanted to explore was the heritage and identity of Beeston through the voices of the women who live here. We started with workshops where women, and their children, would come together and just talk, developing ideas of how they would like to see the area celebrated. What was brilliant was that straight away these women really embraced the whole idea, passionately working towards how they could share their stories, taking ownership of the project and creating their own legacy.

These conversations led us to ‘Saris and street signs’, ultimately to become the name of our pending exhibition. Saris are so symbolic, and just talking about them brought out so many memories, and emotions. First saris bought by fathers, wedding saris, saris that they were wearing on special occasions – they often highlight key moments in a woman’s life. The names of places are significant in these hybrid communities too as they help everyone to define their sense of place regardless of background. For many of those families who attended our workshops, English wasn’t their first language but they still found ways to communicate and share, finding friendship in the mutual understanding of being part of this community.

Over the last few weeks we have been creating work to show in an exhibition at the end of the month. There will be a display that includes a collection of embroidered fans created by some of the women involved, sari and letter writing workshops and lots of food – really breaking down what culture means to us in our community.  We’ve also created a time capsule that is full of letters from our regular attendees, written either to someone in their past or in the future, sharing stories of their community, what Beeston means to them.

I’ve really just been a facilitator for this whole project, happily giving the talented people of Beeston the know-how and the opportunity to get creative. It’s so empowering for them, and I love working with such close knit, grass roots communities to tell their stories outside of the immediate neighbourhood. ‘My World My City My Neighbourhood’ has ignited an interest in LEEDS 2023 and the wider city more generally, the realisation of just how rich the heritage is across Leeds from all the different cultures that have settled and made their homes here. 

My hope is that the legacy of projects like ‘Saris and street signs’ is that we see arts and culture as part of everyday life across all of Leeds, that those involved carry on using their skills and celebrating what makes their community special.