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‘My Ancestors were French’ project group

January 30th 2013

Powerful new short film introduces East Riding based heritage project

East Riding arts project ‘My Ancestors were French’ has released a short film exploring what it feels like to be a stranger in a strange land. The film can be viewed on the project website

Award-winning filmmaker Quentin Budworth worked with Dilzar Shanga to create the film of his experiences of what it feels like to come to a new land as a refugee. Dilzar describes how music can bring people of different cultures together, overcoming adversity and creating something good and new.

The film will be used at a series of workshops to explore the significance of ancestry using storytelling, music, art and poetry as part of the My Ancestors were French project.

Quentin explained, ‘Working on the film with Dilzar was an enlightening and inspiring experience. It was not until I heard about his experiences as a refugee from Kurdistan living in Hull and learnt about his need to make human connections and his desire to be accepted that I realised just how challenging the life of a refugee can be. Making the film was a pleasure and a real eye-opener. I hope that you enjoy the film and its message’

Project team members Richard Duffy-Howard and Dilzar Shanga originally collected and translated emotional and evocative stories as part of Richard Lees’ ‘Seeking Asylum in Hull’ poster exhibition at Wilberforce House Museum (for Wilberforce 2007).

The ‘My Ancestors were French’ project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund’s All Our Stories scheme, in support of BBC2’s ‘The Great British Story – A People’s History’. The project explores the significance of ancestry and identity, inspired by the story of the first refugees to come to England in the 16th Century, the Huguenots.

You can view the film on the My Ancestors were French website:


Quotes from the film, collected and translated by Richard Duffy-Howard and Dilzar Shanga:

  • “When I came to England, to Hull, it was a different language, culture and basically everything was like a big lock. And it was locked. The key to my life in Hull was music. If you take the music out of the world there would be nothing left to make a difference.”
  • “I have invited a couple of my friends from Bradford we were walking to town and they were saying we’ve heard Hull’s really bad and I was saying no not really, I’ve got some really good friends and it’s a really nice place to live, I’ve been to other cities but I think Hull is beautiful. Whilst I was talking a taxi passed us and the taxi driver leaned out of the window and started shouting ‘go back to your own country’, you know really shouting, really angry and my friend was saying well it must be really hard to live in Hull. I said ok there are some idiots but I have some really good friends here, don’t believe all the rumours. With that, the taxi got to the end of Spring Bank and turned around, he drove back just so he could hurl abuse at us for a second time. I was really mad; I was just telling my friends how beautiful Hull was.”
  • “Once I went to one of the supermarkets in a shopping centre. I went to pay, I paid and I said thank you and the woman at the checkout smiled and said thank you too. The way she said it and looked at me she really meant it. This was the first time someone here had said thank you to me. I can’t explain how it made me feel but it made the rest of my day wonderful.”
  • “I was waiting at a bus stop there was a woman with a child in a push-chair the bus came and she was struggling to get on and I said ‘do you want help with the push-chair?’ She said ‘no, but you can hold my baby’ and when she got off the bus and I said ‘do you want help with the push-chair’ and she said ‘no but you can hold my baby again’ and because in this country usually people would not trust someone like me, but she did, it made me feel good because she showed me that not everyone believes the lies some people tell about us.”
  • “My friend, he’s Kurdish too, he can go to night clubs in town, pubs, anywhere, he has a great time and comes home feeling good. Nobody tells him to ‘go back to your own country’, but he doesn’t look like me. His skin is whiter and he’s got blue eyes.”
  • “In my city, Hewler in Kurdistan, it is very flat just like Hull. Many years ago people built a hill in the middle of the city with their hands, so you could see it from miles around and know that you were close to home. When you see it after a long journey, it warms your heart and lifts your spirit. Here I travel with my band all over England to beautiful places with good people, playing at parties and gigs, but we know it’s not home and at the end of the night when we are really tired we know we have to go back. When we see the Humber Bridge, it’s like the hill in the middle of Hewler. We look at each other, smile and say ‘Yeah! Let’s go!’ “
  • “My home in Kurdistan I shared with seven sisters, three brothers, my mum and my dad. There is a beautiful garden. We have two different orange trees, olive, pomegranate and a grapefruit tree, which isn’t really grapefruit, it’s much more special. There are two grapevines in the garage, one black and one white. The roof of our house is flat; you can go to sleep up there watching the stars. And the stars are like nothing else. Everything is so clear you can navigate by them; you always know where you are. It is like being on a different planet. It is so beautiful. But I had to leave. I had no choice. I was seventeen. I have been looking for the stars since I’ve been in England but I can’t see them.”
  • “Even though I have seen many horrors in my life, I still think I am lucky because I have brought good things from Kurdistan and I can see the good things in England.”

 ‘My Ancestors were French’ project group

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22 November 2012

Telling Our Story: ’ My Ancestors were French’ Project Group celebrates Heritage Lottery Fund grant

The ‘My Ancestors were French’ Project Group is one of the first groups in the UK to receive a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) All Our Stories grant, it was announced today. The exciting project, in the East Riding of Yorkshire has been given a grant to explore how the Huguenot people – the first refugees to come to England in the 16th Century – successfully integrated into new lands bringing with them trades and skills.

All Our Stories, a brand new small grant programme, launched earlier this year in support of BBC Two’s The Great British Story – has been designed as an opportunity for everyone to get involved in their heritage. With HLF funding and support, community groups will carry out activities that help people explore, share and celebrate their local heritage.

The popular series presented by historian Michael Wood and supported by a programme of BBC Learning activities and events got thousands of us asking questions about our history and inspired us to look at our history in a different way through the eyes of ordinary people.

The programme and HLF All Our Stories has proved a real hit and now the My Ancestors were French project is one of hundreds of successful projects around the UK to receive a grant. The grant will fund workshops where participants will explore Huguenot heritage using music, art and film. There will also be an event in spring to celebrate the work created by the participants.

TV presenter and historian Michael Wood, said: “We British love our history, and no wonder: few nations in the world, if any, have such riches on their doorstep, and so much of it accessible to all of us. It is really tremendous that the people of the East Riding have been inspired to get involved to tell their own story and to dig deeper into their own past. It’s brilliant that so many people are being given the chance to get involved through the All Our Stories grants. Having travelled the length and breadth of the British Isles this last year filming The Great British Story, I am certain that fascinating and moving stories will be uncovered which will not only bring to life the excitement of local history, but will illuminate and enrich every community’s connection with the national narrative.”

Commenting on the award, Project Chair, Chris Goodwin explained, “We are delighted to have been awarded this grant. It is really exciting to have the opportunity to investigate this intriguing aspect of our collective culture and share it with our community. The East Riding, containing one of Britain’s major historical international ports, is an area rich in history and a melting pot of the world’s traditions. Many races and cultures have enriched this wonderful region to the benefit of all. This story, presented in the innovative use of music, narration, photography, art and horticulture, is just one of the many fascinating threads forming the weave of our colourful heritage. It is a story that has been bursting to be told. We are thrilled to be enabled to tell it.”

Fiona Spiers, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “Clearly the success of All Our Stories has reinforced the fact that we are indeed a nation of story tellers and that we want to explore and dig deeper into our past and discover more about what really matters to us. This is exactly what the grant will do for the ‘My Ancestors were French’ project group as they embark on a real journey of discovery.”

Notes to editors
About the ‘My Ancestors were French’ project group.

The group is a not for profit group is chaired by writer, traveller and musicologist Chris Goodwin, former head teacher of Beverley Grammar School. The project is led by Rich and Lou Duffy-Howard who have previously produced 8 annual Grassroots Free Festivals, Hull700 yearlong events programme, Wilberforce 2007 and Sankofa Sunsplash and Humber Mouth Literature Festival activity.

All Our Stories
All Our Stories is a new, simple, funding programme for 2012 with grants available ranging from £3,000 – £10,000 developed so everyone can get involved in their heritage. From researching local historic landmarks, learning more about customs and traditions to delving into archives and finding out the origins of street and place names All Our Stories will give everyone the chance to explore their heritage and share what they learn with others. This programme is now closed to new applications and decisions were made in October 2012.

Heritage Lottery Fund
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported 33,000 projects, allocating £4.9billion across the UK. Website:

BBC Learning
BBC Learning plays a central part in meeting the BBC’s purpose of promoting education and learning. Utilising the power of the BBC’s big brands and key talent, the department puts learning right at the heart of the BBC and provides a variety of resources and learning opportunities for children, teachers, parents and adult learners. Working with partners and in local communities, BBC Learning aims to stimulate interests and encourage engagement through a variety of campaigns across all BBC genres and platforms.

For further information, images and interviews, please contact
Louise Duffy-Howard
Project Group Leader