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The Linley Sisters re-imagined: our partnership with the Baytree Centre

This International Women’s Day, we wanted to shine a light on the amazing work of one of our Community Partners, the Baytree Centre in Brixton, who empower women and girls through education and skills development programmes.

In late 2018 we worked with girls from Baytree’s Into School programme, which helps young migrant and refugee girls to obtain school places. The girls joined us at the Gallery for a series of creative workshops that culminated in a final performance at the Baytree Centre; a modern-day reimagining of The Linley Sisters' story, after Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait in our Collection.

  • The girls in costume as the Linley sisters and family

    The girls in costume as the Linley sisters and family
  • Final performance at the Baytree Centre

    Final performance at the Baytree Centre

We spoke to Caley Holmboe, Baytree’s Into School Manager, about the programme and how working with arts organisations like Dulwich Picture Gallery is so important.

What barriers do girls on the Into School project face?
Recently arrived migrant and refugee children face many challenges upon entering the UK. With many arriving with little or no English, the language barrier can isolate young women and girls. It is extremely hard to apply to school, register with a GP; all these basic things we can take for granted. So, often these girls fall through the cracks – they could be waiting several months or even a year before they engage in mainstream education, which has a serious impact on their future.

Meanwhile there is not much interim provision on offer – which is why Into School exists; in order to provide these vulnerable young people with education, structure, community and safety while they wait to get a place in school or college. We also help them through the school/college application process as filling out forms and follow-up emails and calls can be very hard, if not impossible, with limited English.

Integration into a completely new country and new culture is traumatic in itself, and especially hard on some of our Into School girls who are escaping severe trauma in their home countries or have complicated lives; often separated from their families and support networks. The resources for young newly arrived migrants are limited and they often lose out on their right to education. I have found the Into School girls to be the most grateful and pleasurable group to teach; they do not take the provision we offer for granted and are extremely eager to learn. The resilience that the Into School girls demonstrate at Baytree never ceases to amaze me. It is evidence of our human capacity for strength and hope in the face of adversity.

How has working with Dulwich Picture Gallery helped the girls on the Into School programme to develop their skills?
In the past two projects with Dulwich Picture Gallery, the girls have learned lots of new skills, from photo-editing on a computer and making stop-motion videos, to portrait photography and creating props for a play! For many girls, this the first time they have tried these creative techniques and it is fantastic that these talented professionals and facilitators come together at the workshops to share their skills. It could plant a seed for a future career pathway for an Into School girl, or help inspire a new hobby. The interaction with new people – be it the wonderful cohort of older women we worked with on Reframing the Muse or the group of volunteers and professionals that have assisted or lead the workshops on the most recent project, it is great for them to build their confidence in speaking to new people – and they get to practise their English!

Is it important for Baytree to partner with cultural institutions like Dulwich Picture Gallery?
Yes, definitely! Baytree is a social inclusion charity; and cultural institutions haven’t always been inclusive. So it’s great that we can access Art, Artists and Workshops at Dulwich Picture Gallery that might be less accessible to our girls. It is significant because it shows that cultural institutions are striving to change and to prioritise working with local surrounding communities and charities. Into School is an integration project for young migrants, and connecting to cultural landmarks like Dulwich Picture Gallery boosts their sense of belonging to their new communities. Working with Dulwich Picture Gallery exposes our young women and girls to the breadth of arts and culture on offer, available just around the corner from the Baytree Centre.

What was your highlight of this year's project?
The highlight of this year's project was the play that was performed at the Baytree Centre! It was so lovely to see the fruits of our girls and the facilitator's hard work! The props and improvised costumes looked fabulous and I was impressed with the girls using their English on stage, very brave! The story they created was inspired by the Linley sisters (from Thomas Gainsborough’s painting in Dulwich Picture Gallery's Collection) and was really current and relatable. The other Baytree beneficiaries and staff were a participatory audience and the performance was a hit!

"I really like the stop-motion videos and I want to make more stop-motion videos!" Doris

"I love to make some props in cardboard like computer and paint them." Antonya

"I like see the pictures and know the history about these pictures." Johanna

We will be continuing our work with the Baytree Centre exploring stories of women in our Collection as part of our Unlocking Paintings initiative.