The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has been at the forefront of the fight to secure a good deal for regions in northern England, particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
During the recent ‘iGlobal’ launch event, DiwaliFest2020, he took time out of his hectic schedule to not only participate in the virtual Diwali festivities but also shed some light on the brand-new South Asia Gallery at Manchester Museum, set to be formally launched in August 2022. In a lively exchange with broadcaster and journalist Anila Dhami, Burnham expressed his excitement over the first gallery of its kind to celebrate the vibrancy of Indian culture in the UK and also took a trip down memory lane to reflect on his visit to India last year.
What does the Manchester Museum's new South Asia Gallery mean for the ties of Manchester’s Indian community with Greater Manchester?
It is a really big deal and we are so excited about it. This is the UK’s first dedicated gallery to South Asian culture, history, and people’s stories. It opens in August 2022 so we are really building up to it, and it was such a privilege to be out in India last year with the Manchester Museum and the Partition Museum because they’ve been doing a lot of joint work together.
It was just fantastic to hear them talk about that at a reception in Delhi, at the British High Commission, it was absolutely fantastic. A lot of groundwork is going into this and this is going to be not just a museum that can tell the story of the people who came to Greater Manchester all those years ago, but also a performance space to celebrate the vibrancy of Indian culture today.
We are really excited about it and I said when I went to India last year, that it was really out of respect for all of the thousands of people who kind of built our city region into what it is today, who came from India in the past.
We’re very much hoping that the new gallery will take our partnership and relationship with India that step further forward.
Why Manchester and in 2022, and why has this project come about now; is it your inspiration from visiting India?
It's more driven by the museum and many of our really well-known high-profile people of Indian origin who are working in Greater Manchester, who are very proud of their roots.
There are so many people who are prominent in Greater Manchester life who rightly have said well where’s the place that tells our story, the story of our parents and grandparents who came here, and in many ways sacrificed so much but invested in Greater Manchester.
That story needs to be told and it is not told enough, and I think that’s the inspiration really behind the gallery.
How did you find your trip to India last year?
I just loved it! It feels like a lifetime ago now, given how we have been living this year; Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi – I was really blown away by it, to be honest. I just loved every minute of it, and as somebody who loves cricket, it’s great to be in a country that has cricket as the number one sport.
That was the first thing that really struck me; you turn on the television and you just see cricket which is great, and also just the vibrancy of the cities.
But the thing that lives with me and even now is just the warmth of the people, I don’t think I’ve felt that in a country before – the friendliness and the warmth is really quite something and I am planning to return as soon as I can.
South Asians and the black and ethnic minority community, in particular, have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 across the UK; what would you say to British Indians at this time?
I feel for everybody to be honest; I think you said to me at the start that this isn’t the Diwali that people would have wanted and it’s a really tough time for everybody. And you are right the Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian communities in Greater Manchester have been particularly affected by everything that has happened this year and we’re very conscious of that.
Coming out of it, we want to go further in challenging the inequalities that we still have within our society. Now Greater Manchester is a beacon of diversity, we believe in it, we see it as our greatest strength – it is a city of equality but it's not equal enough yet.
I think the way in which the virus has affected different communities is related to the nature of people’s work. There are still many people of South Asian origin working in the highest risk professions or some of the professions that have been the hardest hit by the virus. Housing is not as good as it should be in large parts of Greater Manchester and we need to improve that, so I would say to people that we understand how tough this year has been for you and we know this wasn’t the Diwali you wanted.
And the things I have spoken about, the visit I made last year and the gallery that’s opening, in my view, it’s important for me to show how much I respect what people of Indian origin have contributed to Greater Manchester.
And, it’s out respect of the ancestors of people who came here and the community today that we resolve to do more on all of these things going forward. To build our relationships, tackle the inequalities but also have a strong positive relationship with the modern India.
I am proud of the Manchester India Partnership, it’s a new body we’ve created which is really deepening relationships from a business and people-to-people point of view.
*For similar highlight sessions from DiwaliFest2020, click here