2017 was the year of Hull City of Culture in the UK. This provided a great opportunity for us in Freetown to strengthen already existing links between our twinned cities and build new sustainable partnerships in education, cultural relations and the Arts. Civic links date back some 38 years, school links between the two cities, particularly based on British Council’s Connecting Classrooms programme, for 10 years. In 2017 a year of exciting events and achievements in both cities cemented the relationship.
In Education the International Pupils Council flourished, and two new projects brought schools together in both cities. British Council’s World Voice enhanced the power of singing in the primary classroom – music is a very powerful tool for communication in Sierra Leone. Rivers of the World meanwhile developed good design skills for pupils at secondary level, initiatives we hope to see mainstreamed into the school curriculum, as the Ministry of Education Science and Technology has acknowledged their importance.
In 2017 artists, principals, school teachers, film makers, the Hull Truck Theatre, street artists, and festival organisers from Hull all visited Freetown and developed new collaborative projects with local partners based on sharing ideas and talent. Digital, as well as face -to-face exchange, were integral to such collaborations.
Meanwhile, Hull hosted exhibitions, festivals and concerts involving Freetownians. Visitors even included an engine from Sierra Leone’s railway, which took freight and passengers until the 1980s and whose twin is now on view in the National Railway Museum in Cline Town. In September the Mayor of Freetown led a delegation along with a British Council team as official guests of the Hull City Council and Hull Freedom Festival.
The year culminated in a Hull-Freetown Freedom Week in late October. This included, in the wake of the disastrous August mud slide and the wonderful financial support provided from Hull partners, a high-profile Forum on Environmental Protection, where film makers from Chanel 4 UK and Freetown showed the power of the media to raise awareness; and senior stakeholders explored the role of human intervention causes in creating and preventing disaster. Short films “Hull, this City belongs to Everyone” and its mirror “Freetown, this City belongs to Everyone” made by local film-maker Barmmy Boy and Ours is a Happy Life (presenting the daily lives of ordinary people such as hairdressers and taxi drivers in both cities) were shown in a Forum on the Future Development of Freetown. Elsewhere, the two museums of Freetown opened specially-commissioned exhibitions.
“Modern Slavery”, a partnership between the British Council, the National Museum of Sierra Leone and the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE) provided a platform for investigating the work that is being done in Sierra Leone by government and NGOs to build resilience at community level against contemporary slavery.
At the Railway Museum, “2778 Nautical Miles”, the distance by sea between the two ports, recorded the voices of the two cities . This exhibition has already started touring schools in Hull in 2018.
Fostering professional relationships between individuals with a common aim matters. As do institutional links. Between the Universities of Hull and Sierra Leone, the Hull and Freetown societies, the Hull Freedom Festival, the recently-established Freetown Festivals of Music and the King Dus, and Freetown and Hull City Councils, shared values and interests have combined with both physical, face-to-face exchange and digital communication. And shown that these links can really make a difference.
It has often been said that Hull and Freetown have a lot in common. Hull for example was a very powerful and rich port in the 19th century, which, after a period of decline had become a place few visited. Hull 2017 changed all this – millions of visitors, not least the British themselves, now know much more about Hull and its cultural creativity than before – making it a favoured destination for the Arts. Hull-Freetown 2017 has played its part in the process of changing the perception of Freetown, into a place with a vibrant artistic scene, with organisations tackling issues of current concern and with pupils enjoying a rounded education. These are the things which matter and will influence the city’s growth.