A community engagement and social history project
Ayo Gorkhali! (literally ‘Here come the Gurkhas!’) began in the small Welsh town of Brecon in 2008 as a community engagement project by Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery that aimed to promote ties between the growing local community of Nepalese (Nepali) Gurkhas and the wider Welsh population. As the project developed it produced a short film about the Gurkhas in Brecon, a multimedia exhibition and, in its second phase, an internationally-acclaimed online social history archive: ayo-gorkhali.org.
At its heart the ‘Ayo Gorkhali’ project is about encouraging understanding between different communities and cultures and celebrating the rich heritage that Brecon and the British Gurkhas share.
The BC team became involved by chance when our Creative Director, Ro Rai, spotted a forum request for facilitators for the Nepalese-Welsh community engagement work and offered his support as a volunteer. Sometime later, on hearing our ideas as to how the project might be enhanced – by developing a ‘video wall’ installation featuring interviews with members of both communities and devising an exhibition illustrating the history of the Gurkhas – Brecknock Museum’s Senior Curator, Nigel Blackamore, saw the opportunity to create a very special experience for the town. A successful Heritage Lottery Fund grant application was made and the Ayo Gorkhali! project was born.
The Ayo Gorkhali! exhibition
The BC team set about interviewing members of Brecon’s Welsh and Nepali communities: children, teachers, parents, publicans, taxi drivers, soldiers and military historians as well as Gurkha Rights campaigners such as Joanna Lumley. The interviews were compiled into an interactive video wall installation that allowed visitors to Brecknock Museum to put questions to their Welsh and Nepali counterparts: questions that normally might not be asked or even understood because of language barriers. The BC team also did an enormous amount of research into Nepalese and Gurkha history, discovering many surprising facts about Brecon’s long relationship with the Gurkhas and Nepal: the town was home to the ’24th of Foot’, the first regiment to attack Nepali Gurkha troops just prior to the 1814 Anglo-Gorkha War.
This research was compiled into a richly illustrated timeline of Nepalese and Gurkha history designed to wrap around the entire interior of the museum’s main exhibition space. The team scoured the archives and collections of the Gurkha Museum Winchester and with their kind cooperation, created a unique set of exhibits showing the ways in which the Gurkhas’ lives in the military mirrored the lives of their forebears in the villages of the Himalayas. The Ayo Gorkhali! exhibition was an unqualified success and its run in Brecknock Museum was extended twice in order to meet the demand from local and national visitors, especially from school parties. The ITV Wales clip below was recorded just as the exhibition was due to open.
The Ayo Gorkhali! website
A year later, in late 2009, CyMAL, the organisation responsible for the Museums Archives and Libraries of Wales, wanted to know what how the Ayo Gorkhali! exhibition could be followed up. We proposed putting the content of the exhibition online; extending and enhancing the timeline to create a rich and immersive interactive experience and creating social media presence for the project that could act as a platform for Nepali diaspora around the world to engage with their heritage. The BC team entered into another intensive round of research and development, lasting almost 5 months. The result was the ayo-gorkhali.org site; the Ayo Gorkhali Timeline and the project’s Facebook page.View online