Programme Outline

The children arrive in the hall to see Mr G preparing to open his corner shop for the day. He welcomes them and points out some of the food he stocks from different countries. Urging them to make themselves at home as he prepares to listen to the cricket on the radio.

Janine his part-time Saturday girl bursts in agitated after an argument with her Nan about an old photograph. Mr G tries to calm her by trying to make her understand how difficult things were when people first came to live in England. He does this by showing her some old photographs that were left when a photographer used the shop as his studio (these are real images of real people). The children examine the pictures and speculate on who these people are and what they have in common. Mr G recalls some of the previous incumbents of the shop and the different use to which it has been put.

Mr G open a second case to reveal a scene of the Caribbean Mr G places a hat from the Case on Janine to transform her into her Nan. She plays out a scene of leaving Jamaica and tells the story of the journey (this is a real account).

Janine speculates on why some one would leave the sunshine of Jamaica to live in England. The children are invited to comment on how they imagine it would feel and what they would choose to take. Mr G recounts his expectations of England and his experience of arriving asking Janine to think what it must have been like for her Nan.

They open a third case to reveal an English winter scene. Mr G wraps Janine up against the cold and she recounts a true first experience of snow with the aid of another photograph.

Mr G introduces the idea that a colour bar operated preventing Black and Asian people getting rooms. This stings Janine and Mr G plays her an extract from Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech. They discuss what the extract means and with the children play out a scene in a café to illustrate how it gave licence to people to racially discriminate. Janine makes a connection to contemporary attitudes since the Brexit referendum. She wants to know why her Nan stayed and how people coped.

They open a fourth suitcase that shows the interior of a 1960’s house the children look in it to see what living conditions were like. Mr G talks of living in crowded conditions and sharing different food and the sorts of jobs he and his housemates did. How he first met Janine’s mother and how he met his wife at a dance. Needing more money to get married Mr G tells how he helped build the rotunda and considers himself a part of the city as he is like one of the unseen bricks that hold the building up.

Janine takes him to task on this and says life is still difficult for the recently arrived in Birmingham. They discuss the importance of sharing history as a way of finding common experiences and invite the children to offer Janine advice on how she should make up with her Nan.

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Aim & Outcomes


To celebrate the contributions and achievements that people have made in meeting the challenges they faced since arriving in Birmingham.


Children will:

  • Discuss who came to live in Birmingham after the Second World War and why
  • Make contemporary connections to the experience of historical migrants
  • Reflect on the contributions that migrants have made to modern Birmingham and the notion of belonging

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Resources List

The websites and books listed below were used in the making of this programme, you may find them useful and interesting too.

Free exhibition focussed on Asian migration and our City’s connection to the subcontinent, in the gallery at the Central Library until 21st October 2017.
The genesis of Birmingham Central Library’s Black History Collection was created back in the late 1990s and was formed as a response to the call for a designated and identifiable collection of materials which could be found in one centralised location in the Central Library
Follow the collections link to find out more about Vanley Burke’s photographs include text descriptions of images that you might like to arrange to see.
No longer a live website but you can see the archived stories via the link above.
Scroll down to research timelines and click on the migration timeline for information on significant migration events and legislation and its effect.


The photographs used in the programme are part of the collections of Vanley Burke and Ernest Dyche housed at the city archive held in the Wolfson Centre on floor 4 of The Library in Birmingham.

You might like to go and see the full collection.

If you would like to book an appointment, please email, giving details of when you would like to visit, the items you wish to consult, and your contact details.


The Journey edited by Marcia Hutchinson
Primary Colours ISBN 0-9543598-1-X

Olivia’s Journey edited by Pete Tidy and Marcia Hutchinson
Primary Colours ISBN 0-9532562-6-X

This is Birmingham: A Glimpse of the City’s Secret Treasures by Jan Bowman Waverley Books Ltd (10 Dec. 2009) ISBN-10: 1902407938 (a colorful illustrated history of Birmingham)

Children’s History of Birmingham by Mandy Ross,
Hometown World ISBN-10: 1849932212

Racism Explained to my Daughter by Tahar Ben Jelloun
The New Press ISBN 1-56584-534-X

Sweet Clara & The Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson
Dragonfly books ISBN 0-679-87472-0

Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson
An Anne Schwartz book ISBN 0-689-82227-8

Making Connections Birmingham Black International History, eds., Ian Grosvenor, Rita McLean, Sian Roberts, Publ. Black Pasts, Birmingham Futures Group, 2002, ISBN 0 9543713 0 5.
Copies in schools and libraries but out of print now so not available to buy.

A World City Birmingham & It’s People Portrayed, ed., Michael Leitch, Publ. Birmingham Library Services, 2003, ISBN 0 7093 02436. Copies in libraries.

Coming to Light Birmingham’s Photographic Collections, ed., Peter James., Publ. Birmingham Libraries and Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery,1998, ISBN 0 7093 0228 2. Copies in libraries and at BMAG.

Black History Sources in Birmingham City Archives, eds., Fiona Tait and Brigitte Winsor, Publ. Birmingham Library Services, 2004. No ISBN. Copies in Birmingham City Archives.


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Suitcase on the Wardrobe is performed by Malcolm Jennings and Rosalyn Norford.

It is based on an older programme “Journeys” originally devised by Malcolm Jennings, Dee Parmar, Ivanhoe Norona and directed by Tyrone Huggins in partnership with Nikki Thorpe and the staff of the City Archive (Central Library) and children and staff of schools belonging to the Catholic partnership.

It has been redevised by Malcolm Jennings, Rosalyn Norford and Directed by Frances Land

The set was designed and built by Abigail King
Music by Jerry Smith
Costume by Kaye Wilton at Birmingham REP

Website content written by Malcolm Jennings


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