Sara Wajid’s MBE for recording the capital’s culture club
Palace date as heritage expert is honoured for services to diversity
14 June, 2019 — By Emily Finch
Sara Wajid, who is head of engagement at the Museum of London, was named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list
SARA Wajid, who has made it her “life mission to make museums multicultural”, was rewarded for her efforts with an MBE this week. She was recognised for services to culture and diversity.
The 45-year-old began her heritage career in Islington at a South Asian archive but now holds a lead role at the Museum of London where she is the head of engagement.
She said: “It was a tiny digital archive and I found out so many histories that seemed incredible, from the first Asian classical dancers, right through to the contemporary authors of the day including Salman Rushdie and Hanif Kureishi. Their histories weren’t being kept anywhere.”
Ms Wajid is now working to involve people from the borough in the relocation of the Museum of London from Moorgate into an empty building in West Smithfield by Farringdon station. It is set to open in 2024.
“It’s the biggest cultural project in recent times. I am responsible in engaging Londoners in the project. We are the people’s history and our collection reflects the full diverse spectrum of London,” she said.
Ms Wajid has organised a “teachers’ panel” which included educators from the borough to find out what they want to see in a new museum.
“It’s important to talk to people on the ground about what their needs are – we’re not experts on all walks on life. The main takeaway was every child in London should feel represented by the new museum and it was good to hear it out loud, even if you know that in a general sense,” she said.
She is also working closely with Arsenal in the Community and the museum will be running historical tours in Clerkenwell and Smithfield.
Ms Wajid set up a network for fellow museum workers from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds called Museum Detox five years ago.
“We connect people working throughout the country who can feel isolated,” she said. “Members can feel disheartened that there are so few BAME people in the sector. People are empowered within the network.”
During her time as head of interpretation at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Ms Wajid worked to exhibit objects to do with empire through a “decolonised perspective” by working with cultural activists.
She said: “I’ve always been interested in history, I remember my parents saying how the British had come to colonise other parts of the world.”
Her lessons at school, where Britain was portrayed as being greater than the countries it colonised, “didn’t make me feel very good”.
She added that “it was the first time my parents told me an authority figure wasn’t right” regarding her teachers.
Ms Wajid said her MBE felt like a “big hug from the world”.
“Usually people are sent a letter if they’re on the honours list, but mine went to the wrong address by accident. They had to call me at work. I sit in a open-plan office and it was an odd call to get in the middle of the working day, but it was very lovely. I thought it was a practical joke.”
Ms Wajid worked in journalism after studying at the University of Sussex and the School of African and Oriental Studies. She will be given the award in a special ceremony in the coming months.
Jane gets gong for her part in refugee rescue
Professor Lee Elliot Major and Jane Edmondson
AN official who played a leading role in the UK’s aid response to the Rohingya refugee humanitarian crisis said it was a “privilege” to be in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, writes Calum Fraser.
Holloway resident Jane Edmondson will receive the member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) award this year.
Ms Edmondson, who is now director for East and Central Africa at the Department for International Development (DFID), was thrown into action when the Holey Bakery terrorist attack erupted in Bangladesh on the eve of her first night there in 2016.
During the attack five militant Islamic extremists took hostages and opened fire on the Holey Artisan Bakery, killing 29 people including 20 hostages – 18 of which were foreign nationals.
A DFID spokeswoman said: “The events led to the evacuation of families and Jane was at the forefront of providing the leadership and support for UK staff based in Dhaka and families through a traumatic period.”
A year later she helped deliver £129million of aid to Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar.
Since then she has returned to the UK to take up a directorship in the Civil Service.
Ms Edmondson said: “It feels a huge honour and privilege to get something like this. But I am also very conscious that anything I have achieved is because of working with great teams of very dedicate and expert people. My family is very happy.”
Archway resident Professor Lee Elliot Major was also named in the Honours list. The former chief executive of the education charity and think tank the Sutton Trust was recognised for his services to social mobility and put forward for an officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE).