Changing Perspectives in the Countryside

As part of The MERL’s Building Connections project (funded by Arts Council England), we have sought to explore different stories and themes that live within our collection from the history of the English countryside.

As we researched a range of themes and topics—from LGBTQ+ rural experience to the history of migration—it became clear to us that there were many people whose stories, experiences and perspectives had historically gone untold within our collections.

So rather than looking back, we decided to look forward. We reached out to nine people who have generously shared with us their experiences—the good together with the bad—of what it is like to be a person of colour in the countryside: Dr Mya-Rose CraigPed AsgarianNavaratnam ‘Theeb’ PartheebanDawood QureshiJC NialaZakiya McKenzie, Dr  Anjana Khatwa, Anooshka Rawden, and Dr. Geeta Ludhra.

From the 20th January, we will be sharing a new in-conversation each Thursday. Take a look at the interviews published so far below.

Dr Mya-Rose Craig
Dawood Qureshi
JC Niala
Dr Anjana Khatwa
Navaratnam 'Theeb' Partheeban
Ped Asgarian
Zakiya McKenzie
Anooshka Rawden
Dr Geeta Ludhra
Dr Mya-Rose Craig

Dr Mya-Rose Craig

Dr Mya-Rose Craig (AKA Birdgirl) is a prominent birder, naturalist, conservationist, environmentalist, race activist, writer, speaker, and broadcaster. She has written the Birdgirl Blog since January 2014 when she was 11 years old and now has over four million views. Mya-Rose’s passions include birding; nature; stopping climate breakdown; conservation; and preventing species loss, related environmental issues, and racism around the world.

Learn about how Mya-Rose’s love of birding and how she champions rural conservation and equality.

Greenpeace

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Dawood Qureshi

Dawood Qureshi

Dawood Qureshi is a Marine Biology BSc student at Portsmouth University. They are a writer, freelance journalist, photographer, wildlife film-maker, artist, activist, conservationist, and podcaster. In early 2021, as part of their role as Ambassador for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Dawood was involved in the ‘Reintroduction and Rewilding Summit 2021 – The Short Haired Bumblebee: First 12 Years’. They have written for organisations such as The Beaver TrustA Focus On NatureThe Wildlife Trusts, and many blogs and sites.

Hear from Dawood about about their conservation work, their filmmaking, and their commitment to an environmentalism that values nature and human life equally.

Dawood Qureshi

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JC Niala

JC Niala


JC Niala is an award-winning screen and stage writer, cultural producer, and teacher. Having travelled to over 45 countries, and lived and worked on three continents, JC has gathered stories and engaged with audiences from all around the world. JC is currently recreating a 1918 style allotment using open-pollinated non-hybrid heritage seeds from the era on a Fig Studio allotment ploin Oxford. It is a project that explores the relationships over a century between growing plants, health, and community, all themes which have featured in JC’s previous work and research.

You can read more about JC’s thoughts on the countryside and learn more about her fascinating 1918 allotment project here.

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Dr Anjana Khatwa

Dr Anjana Khatwa

Anjana Khatwa is an earth scientist, presenter, and advocate for diversity in the geographical, geoscience and nature conservation sectors. As part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site team, she helped to setup a sustainable education programme to engage the community with the geography of their land. She uses her passion for the science to broaden the reach of geography in the modern day. Anjana is a self-professed ‘time traveller’ using clues locked away in rocks, fossils, and landscapes to reveal the hidden mysteries and stories about ancient life on earth, weaving her identity as a South Asian woman proudly into her work. 

You can follow Dr. Anjana here on Twitter @jurassicg1rl 

Read about Anjana’s experience in the countryside, her work as an Earth Scientist and and her favourite place in England.

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Navaratnam 'Theeb' Partheeban

Navaratnam 'Theeb' Partheeban

Theeb is a dairy farmer veterinarian and the co-founder of the British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society (BVEDS). He has recently been awarded a Nuffield Farming Scholarship 2021, and he is also an Oxford Farming Conference Emerging Leader 2020. Farming is a huge passion of his, which motivated him to run his own sheep flock and to be closely involved in the management of a calf-rearing unit. He has spent time in many other countries researching dairy production and working with dairy farmers. He has recently become a trustee for Country Trust, which creates inspiring food, farming, and countryside opportunities and experiences for marginalised children. 
@navaratnampart1 

You can read about Theeb’s work as a farm veterinarian, his BVEDS initiative and his experience of the countryside here.

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Ped Asgarian

Ped Asgarian

Ped Asgarian originally studied environmental sciences at University, but spent the next decade mixing travelling with the operational and commercial management of small to medium-sized business in the food retail sector. Having spent seven years as managing director of The Community Farma CSA and social enterprise working to revolutionise and innovate the food system for the betterment of people and the planet—Ped then assumed position of Director of Feeding Bristol. Ped is also a founding member and sits on the board of Bristol Food Producers, an organisation aiming to upscale local food production and distribution. 

You can read Ped’s interview and learn about Feeding Bristol here.

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Zakiya McKenzie

Zakiya McKenzie

Zakiya McKenzie is a PhD candidate with the Leverhulme Trust-supported Caribbean Literary Heritage project at the University of Exeter, where she is researching Black British journalism in the post-war period. Zakiya is a writer and storyteller and was the 2019 writer-in-residence for Forestry England during its centenary year.

In Bristol, she was 2017 Black and Green Ambassador and is a volunteer at Ujima Community Radio station. She regularly leads nature, art and writing workshops, including one on Caribbean storytelling for primary schools. Her work has featured at the Cabot Institute for the Environment at the University of Bristol, the Institute for Modern Languages Research at the University of London, the Hepworth Wakefield Gallery, the Free Word Centre, at Cheltenham Literature Festival, on BBC’s Woman’s Hour, Farming Today, and Inside Out West. She has written for Smallwoods Magazine, the Willowherb Review and BBC Wildlife Magazine. 

Buy Zakiya’s pamphlet ‘Testimonies on the History of Jamaica’ here. @ZakiyaMedia 

Follow this link to read Zakiya’s interview and learn about her most recent research.

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Anooshka Rawden

Anooshka Rawden

Anooshka Rawden is the Strategic Lead for Cultural Heritage at the South Downs National Park Authority, having previously worked in museums, including South East Museum DevelopmentScience Museum Groupthe Society of Antiquaries of LondonThe Novium, and Reading Museum. She has also acted as Vice-Chair for the Society for Museum Archaeology (contributing to the production of Standards and Guidance in the Care of Archaeological Collections) and has been a mentor for the Museum Futures programme, which supports the development of diverse museum professionals, challenging and disrupting the traditional route of entry into the sector that has left many people under-represented in the workforce. She currently sits on the UK Museum Accreditation Committee.

After specialising in the care of museum collections, Anooshka would describe her career now as ‘Jack of all trades and Master of none’, but was recently reminded that this closes with ‘though oftentimes better than master of one’. A broad level of knowledge across archaeology, museums and the creative arts has opened doors to support a wide range of activities, such as a currently live project with Archaeology South EastSeaford Town Council, and a contemporary artist to explore heritage loss focused on an Iron Age hillfort in Seaford, bringing together archaeology and the creative arts to communicate a challenging topic affecting coastal communities.

Read Anooshka’s interview with us, as we discussed her life, work, and approach to museums practice.

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Dr Geeta Ludhra

Dr Geeta Ludhra

Dr Geeta Ludhra lives in the Chilterns, after living in Slough, Hounslow and Nottinghamshire. She was raised within humble circumstances, as the daughter of first-generation South Asian parents who settled from India in the early 60s. Geeta’s heritage, education journey and research interests bring a unique lens as a Board Member of the Chilterns Area of Natural Beauty. Geeta is passionately committed to diversity and representation in relation to natural landscapes as inclusive green spaces for all.

Geeta works as a Lecturer in Education at Brunel University, where she teaches across Postgraduate programmes and engages in academic research. She is currently researching her book on ‘successful’ South Asian women. Her background is rooted in primary school teaching and leadership, where she has worked across diverse London schools, specialising in English. Her working interests touch on women’s studies, social inclusion in education, anti-racism, and respectful ways of working with more ‘hard-to-reach’ communities.

As part of her community interests, Geeta runs a registered community enterprise, where she promotes intergenerational heritage cooking and storytelling, monthly nature walks and leads a women’s writing group.

Hear from Geeta about her life, work, and research, and the powerful role the countryside continues to have in her life.

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