Museum awarded Mindsets + Missions grant

The Mixed Museum has been awarded funding from UK Research and Innovation in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council for an innovative collaborative project on the role of DNA testing in the lives of ‘brown babies’ families.

Logo for the Mindsets and Missions programme

The Mixed Museum has been awarded a Mindsets + Missions grant to explore the role of DNA and genetics within the context of the lives of the families of Britain’s ‘brown babies’ born during World War Two.

Funded by UK Research and Innovation in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Council, the grant is delivered by the Museums Association in partnership with The Liminal Space and the Association for Science and Discovery Centres.

The funding stems from the Mindsets + Missions learning programme, which ran in March and April 2023. During the programme, 45 science and discovery centres, changemaker individuals and museums – including The Mixed Museum – were invited to explore collaboration and peer learning. Cohort members were then invited to submit applications to the Mindsets + Missions funding scheme, which aims to connect underrepresented groups with knowledge, research and innovation. The Mixed Museum is one of 12 projects to be awarded funds via the scheme.

A group of people from the Mindsets and Missions programme smiling while stood outside a building
Member of the Mindsets + Missions cohort at the in-person discussion day in Leeds, March 2023, including Damian Hebron (left) and Chamion Caballero (third from left). Photo: Rana Ibrahim (on right).

The project – titled ‘Reclaiming Histories Through Science: DNA testing in the lives of ‘brown babies’ families – will be led by a cohort of ‘brown babies’ families and supported by a project team made of up Chamion Caballero, Director of The Mixed Museum; Damian Hebron, who has a background in working with people with lived experience to share their stories, particularly in relation to genetic research; and Jill Anderson, a mental health researcher and educator. Professor Lucy Bland from Anglia Ruskin University – whose acclaimed research into the experiences of ‘brown babies’ families underpins The Mixed Museum’s award-winning ‘Brown Babies of WW2’ digital exhibition and the forthcoming DNA project – is also a project partner and advisor.

The aim will be to co-create a transformative space where research into the role of DNA in the families’ lives is equitable and empowering, rather than extractive.

A vision of equitable co-creation and collaboration

A group of people in conversation around a table with a white board with multi coloured notelets stuck to it.
Chamion and Damian with other members of the Mindsets and MIssions cohort at the Leeds Learning Day, March 2023. Photo: Rana Ibrahim.

Chamion says, “I am thrilled that our project – inspired by the incredible research conducted by Lucy Bland - has been awarded this funding. The nature of the project emerged in response to the Mindsets + Missions programme – both the thinking it provoked and the conversations Damian, Jill and I had.

“We designed this project with a vision of enabling true and equitable co-creation and collaboration, placing the power directly in the hands of the 'brown babies' cohort. It's wonderful that the funders understand what we're trying to do, and are willing to support us in this innovative work. The response to our recent event at The Foundling Museum once again demonstrated how greatly conversational spaces for this group are needed. We can't wait to get started.”

Black and white photograph of around 20 mixed race children standing outsdie a building in the 1940s.
Some of the 'Brown Babies' pictured at Holnicote House nursery, a former National Trust building in Somerset that became home to some of the children of Black GIs and white British women born during WW2. Some of those pictured have shared their stories with Lucy Bland and feature in the digital exhibition at The Mixed Museum.

Damian remarks: “I am so pleased to be collaborating on this project. To be a part of something that is so open and that will be decided and created entirely by the people who matter most – the people whose stories will be shared – is a real opportunity to shift power in the way people’s histories are shared.”

Jill also remarks: “Our project builds on strong foundations: the knowledge and experience of the ‘brown babies’ cohort, the inspirational work of The Mixed Museum with Lucy Bland, and our own evolving three-way collaboration. I am so delighted that its potential has been recognised and I'm looking forward to finding out, and helping shape, what happens next.”

Listen to Pauline Nevins talk about how DNA testing helped her find her Black American family. You can also read more about Pauline's life in some of our special exhibitions, including our look at the history of Mixed Race Irish Families in Britain, 1700-2000

The project will begin with a series of facilitated conversations, designed to enable members of the ‘brown babies’ cohort to (re)convene; determine content and approaches; imagine and commission an output; and guide a thorough evaluation process.

These conversations will lead to a brief for a commission which will then be shared and preserved at The Mixed Museum. The commission is open – it could be anything from a film to a dance piece, a painting, or a lecture series. 

Finally the cohort, aided by the project team, will work with an independent evaluation partner to capture learnings for other cultural and research organisations. The aim is to provide insights into how a deliberately open process of co-production can work for all participants, including community members, museums and researchers.

Mindsets + Missions is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and delivered by Museums Association in partnership with The Liminal Space and the Association for Science and Discovery Centres.