Skip to main content

Welcome to the Community Curator Blog!

We are thrilled to bring you along on our journey as we transform The Dining Room space into a vibrant and evolving display of our shared heritage through the lens of food. Our project aims to breathe new life into what was once a static museum exhibit, turning it into a dynamic, ever-changing exploration of our local collections. With the help of 20 dedicated Community Curators, recruited through our wonderful partners, Awakening Minds, Theatre in Flow, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, and the Association of Ukrainians Great Britain: Rochdale Branch, we will uncover and celebrate the stories and everyday objects that shape our lives but are missing from our collections.

Stay tuned to our blog as we share updates from our meetings, insights from our sessions with the artists, and the progress we’re making with The Dining Room project. We look forward to taking you along on this exciting and transformative journey!

2nd May – Dining Table: Decorations, Celebration and community at the Arts and Heritage Resource Centre

Our meeting began with thinking about decorations at the dinner table – what times of year we each decorate the table and how we adorn it describing the colours, materials and textures we use. Through sharing different celebrations and traditions our conversations identified a number of distinct aspects to the dining table viewing it as;

A space of welcome:

Dressed for guests or special occasions, the table welcomes individuals as well as changes in religious and seasonal calendars. What is on the table top – the crockery, glassware, cutlery and patterned textiles signify a particular sentiment as well as a certain feeling of being welcomed.

‘’If you are invited to eat with nice things you are being told you are valued’’

Sun and Moon, Katherine Mansfield – Short Story, 1920:

“It’s a picture, Min,” said Nellie. “Come along and have a look.” So they all went into the dining-room. Sun and Moon were almost frightened. They wouldn’t go up to the table at first; they just stood at the door and made eyes at it.”

A space of eating:

“A decorated table can give a particular air or expectation that isn’t always carried through in the food. It’s the food that shows the real welcome’’

A space of learning:

Coming together to share food is an opportunity to learn about different cultures and celebrations, as well as a space where we can rekindle traditions that are becoming lost. Table tops in the Dining Room will also be a space of learning.

So we have decided to start building a list

  • What are the celebrations that people mark in Rochdale throughout the year?
  • What did we used to celebrate that is no longer marked?

A space of community:

Sharing a meal is a means to share time with another person, sharing stories, personal histories and forming relationships of solidarity, building a community.

We were reminded of the radical hospitality and work of the People’s Kitchen Collective People’s Kitchen Collective, as well as the work of those in Rochdale who are enacting systems change.

From considering decoration at the dining table, we viewed embroidery samples from the museum collection. The group shared memories of family members embroidering tablecloths for special occasions; floral motifs on each corner and a central circular design. They recalled sisters and aunties crocheting adornments onto scarfs.

‘With crochet – a scarf just sort of suddenly unfolds in front of you’’  

Sewing, crochet and embroidery were also ways of passing the time. Before digital entertainment and a culture of cheap homeware to decorate our interior spaces, handcrafts such as embroidery or quilting were a common pastime.

‘Awaiting collection posts’

19th April – Telling our stories and introducing oral history with Kyam at the The Arts and Heritage Resource Centre

Kyam hosted her first workshop with the group introducing them to oral history. Oral history, the recording of people’s stories is a central part of her creative practice. More on camara’s use of oral history

Kyam guided the group through a series of exercises that focused on recalling some of their earliest and happiest food memories. Walking back into individual memories, thinking of the ingredients, tastes, textures and spaces of eating as well as the smells, sounds and atmosphere was an emotive task. The group shared memories that were connected to family, to feeling a sense of belonging and the people that were central in their childhoods, from being cared for when sick to, to making tea on an open fire, to eating together at the end of the day and fried breakfasts on a Sunday morning.

The happy memories came hand in hand with a sense of loss, loss of traditions, loss of community and loss of family and friends. Holding the space and guiding the group Kyam ensured everyone’s stories were heard and they were given the space and support they needed to voice their memory and share their associated grief. Amongst the grief there was lots of laughter, recalling lively gatherings, the idiosyncracies of individual’s – the particular visitors that would loudly slurp their tea, the struggle to eat a 12 course traditional Christmas meal, the scolding of a parent for using a recipe book instead of knowing a recipe by hand or the fear of making uneven chapatti’s and using pan lids to ensure they are circular!

18th April – Commemorative cups with Aliyah Hussain at the Pioneer’s Museum

Aliyah Hussain delivered a ceramics workshop where participants hand built mugs. Once fired and glazed, the mugs will be used by participants throughout the duration of the project.

Referencing barge ware pottery in the museum collection, which has embossed lettering detailing the place and date it was made, Aliyah had devised making activity using letter stamps to decorate and demark each individual’s mug. The marking of the object with the makers name was an effort to ensure the history of the object does not get lost – if the mug would ever end up in a museum it will be clear who it was made by and when. There are hundreds of objects in Touchstone’s permanent collections that we do not know how they came into the collection, who donated them and why. It is an ongoing job, where the collections team try to find an objects history.

Awaiting collection posts’

5th April – Seeing the architects’ designs and meeting the artists

The community curators gathered in the newly opened Town Hall to hear from Joe Riordan from Architectural Emporium and the artists commissioned to develop works for the Dining Room Space – Ibukun Baldwin, Kyam and Aliyah Hussain

Questions were asked to Joe around interpretation and accessibility in the space:

How will people learn about the objects other than by written descriptions?

Is there space for wheelchairs and pushchairs?

What can be interacted with and how?

 “Can you touch the curtain?

“The whole point is to touch it!”

We discussed the stages of the design process; right now we are thinking about the physical space, the framework and structures – we don’t know what will be in any cases or the stories we might want to tell about them. We are undertaking a journey and going bit by bit – first we think of space and then think what we want to put in it and then how we tell stories. Like making a cake – we think about the size we need, the tools we will need to make it and then the bulk of the cake, the sponge before the flavour – the content and finally the decoration.

After listening to each of the artists talk about their work and their plans for their respective commissions the group walked to Touchstones and took a look round the empty museum space ahead of work starting on the redevelopment. Dirty, cold and rather tired looking the empty building felt far from the architectural impressions we had all just seen, but simultaneously it felt like a huge empty canvas for us to begin to collectively transform.

Ibukun Baldwin and Rochdale Youth Service

Ibukun has started meeting a group of young people at Matthew Moss youth Centre, working with them to develop designs for a large scale curtain that will be used to divide the new ‘Dining Room’ space, creating a flexible enclosed area for visiting school groups and young people as well as a quiet space for the general public. They have been exploring food packaging from Touchstones museum collection and the co-operative heritage trust at the Pioneers Museum as part of the design process. Thinking about functional design, colour and pattern.

The majority of the group are also undertaking their Duke of Edinburgh Award and Ibukun’s project will contribute to the skills development aspect of the award, with the young people learning new skills of textile printing, embroidery and processes of design.

At their first meeting Ibukun shared how to print on fabric, with the young people creating their own stencils and pattern designs for tote bags and t-shirts. The following meeting has seen them create collages from images of historical food packaging as well as old exhibition catalogues from Touchstones past programme and most, they started to work on a collaboratively, printing together onto a large piece of fabric that will remain in the centre for them to use and display as they feel works best.

The Tools We Cook With and The Things We Eat: A visit to the Arts and Heritage Resource Centre

Rochdale Arts & Heritage Centre holds a richly varied collection of around 1,500 works of art of regional and national significance. The collection belongs to Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council, but since 2007 has been cared for by Your Trust’s Arts & Heritage Service on behalf of the council. The collection contains a wide variety of objects, from mundane flat irons and sewing machines to unusual ancient Egyptian canopic jars and ancient Roman coins!

The community curators went on a tour of the museum store, meeting collections staff and viewing items that relate to cooking from Egyptian ceramic jars for storing flour and grain to Victorian pastry cutters and industrial sweet moulds. As rich and varied as they are, the collection objects present a particular culture and a limited view of heritage, The Dining Room Project is about looking at what is absent in the collection, whose voices aren’t represented in the items that are in the store and how can we, as an organisation, bring in new voices.

After looking round the store, Tilly, a member of the collections team showed the group items from the Herbarium Collection, a collection of plant material that includes rice samples and seaweed. The group moved through the collections from the tools used to cook food and the objects used to store it, to the question of what we eat. Alongside the rice and seaweed Tilly also showed the group items of food packaging and tinned goods including, dried milk, custard powder, pea packets, root ginger and caraway seeds. Conversations flowed around what to make with the ingredients, different approaches to making rice pudding from Pakistani rice pudding to Bangladeshi rice pudding to food pantries in Rochdale recommending people use pudding rice to make a cheaper risotto.

We touched on possibilities of pickling. The caraway seeds a pickling spice, individuals in the group grew white raddish or their relatives or friends did, as well as cabbage and memories of their fathers making sauerkraut on mass, using mangles to press out the liquid from the leaves.

We thought about growing something together and plan to return to pickles and collective growing further along in the project

(Collections post)

Going shopping

We took a look at what we can buy in Rochdale visiting a Polish and Pakistani supermarket, thinking about the differences of foods on offer, the similarities of products marketed to different customers and global food pathways. We started to unravel a little where our food comes from and the journey it takes to get to the UK, questioning where the local alternatives are.

Shopping habits and cultural etiquettes were discussed, remembering how it was to visit the Asian supermarket as a child and the expectation that you had to behave. The group shared who does the shopping now in their household and if that has changed from their parents. We thought about what we ask people to bring back for us when they have been someone else, apple tea and vanilla from morocco, sweets from Pakistan, tinned fish from Lisbon. We find things to fit in our suitcases.

We thought about local producers, small scale businesses that don’t seem to be in Rochdale anymore – milk men, egg men and the black pea man on his bike – as well as what is still here, bakers, halal butchers. We realised we eat to different seasons, UK strawberries and Pakistani yellow mangos and saag leaves. Celebrating changing in growing seasons from a distance.

The group shared recipes they knew by heart, talking about the ingredients, how to know when best to buy any particular veg or where to get halal or other meat and why they chose this recipe in particular.

“Does anyone ever measure anything?”


1st March- Deeplish Community Centre: Bring a Bowl

The first meeting of the group saw everyone bring a bowl and share some food. As a way to get to know each other everyone was asked to introduce themselves and say something about the bowl that they had brought with them.

People’s bowls connected to particular memories, they were a gift from a friend or given by a parent before they left home. Some bowls were part of a person’s childhood, having been in the family all their lives.  Other bowls were chosen because of their particular size and shape – a small bowl that was used for children’s snacks, a bowl with a distinct rim to aid a blind participant with measuring portions. Some were chosen due to the pattern, bowls with similar floral motifs on the rim connected to Asian family homes and their choices over interior decoration. Other participants shared simple Ikea bowls – because crockery gets broken and Ikea is an easy replacement. One participant explained that their choice of Ikea bowl was because 2 years ago they moved to UK from Hong Kong leaving heavy domestic items such as cookware behind. The default was to go to Ikea to get their kitchen basics.

One member of the group didn’t bring a bowl but brought a takeaway Tupperware carton. They are a caterer and uses these cartons all the time in both their job and in cooking at home – they eat out of them, even cereal, puts left overs in them and use them to freeze precooked meals. They are a staple of their everyday interactions with food.

From bowls the group conversation moved to talk about food, what we eat out of our bowls, what we like to make and decisions around when and what we eat.

It was the start of more conversations to come.