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Vish Roy - Talking Birds and community engagement

Talking BirdsWhat do many cultures around the world have in common? Food, and their love of making and sharing it.

This formed the basis for many facilitated conversations with local people of Coventry over a week in July. A series of events called The Cart Conversations were organised by the community engagement team of The City of Culture Trust, aimed at interacting with residents from a diverse range of communities across the city of Coventry. The Cart, organised by Talking Birds, is a unique space to engage with residents and provide a mechanism to contribute to the planning stages of Coventry’s Bid to be the City of Culture 2021.

I was lucky enough to be part of the team that facilitated these conversations at two such events. We met and spoke to people young and old, some who had lived in Coventry for the last 60 years and others who had recently arrived from places including Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Mauritius. Going to places where members of a range of communities meet and interact was an enriching experience for the team. It helped us share a dialogue about what was important to the life of each individual, and how can something like winning the City of Culture enhance that experience. In addition, some of the participants presented unique project ideas for the programming team to ponder over and translate into cultural activities that hold meaning and resonance for the people of Coventry.

The conversations were by no means the only productive elements of these events. They also involved working with food artists to create unique fruit platters and a range of bread from different parts of the world. It was interesting to watch a young girl of Indian heritage teach an elderly lady from Jamaica to roll the perfect rotis (flatbread), and a mother and child from Somalia trying to perfect their pineapple hedgehog. The making and sharing of food and the exchange of skills, stories and experience formed the backdrop to an enjoyable yet fruitful afternoon of sharing of ideas and enthusiasm with the people of Coventry

After an afternoon of sharing and making food the group spent some time enjoying the fruits of their efforts, sharing ideas and reflecting on what winning the City of Culture would mean for the city they love so much.

Vish is a Teaching Fellow in the Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies and Research Fellow with Warwick Creative Exchange and is supporting the City of Culture bid and Cultural Strategy.

You can also read Jo Hunter's experience of the afternoon through Talking Birds blog