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A person presenting in front of a room full of people
Student presenting to a room of delegates. Credit: David Furmage

In October 2023, Culture Forward was delighted to work with our partner, Birmingham City Council, to participate in the Eurocities Culture Forum 2023 and create a remarkable and unique opportunity for our students.

We are proud to have had nine students successfully complete work experience as Conference Facilitators and Rapporteurs, where they benefited from networking with delegates from over 140 European cities, hearing insights into tackling issues faced by our cities and how best to shape their future, and confidently reported back to a large audience about the thematic visit they attended. You can hear more from students about their experience below.

Group of students on podium
University of Birmingham work experience students. Credit: David Furmage

As well as this, Culture Forward hosted delegates for lunch at The Exchange and teamed up with the University’s Public Engagement team to present to delegates, introducing them to the University of Birmingham and emphasising our civic mission and dedication to collaboration and contributing to culture.

A heartfelt thank you is extended to Clare Edwards and the team at Birmingham City Council and Eurocities for their brilliant work. It is a delight to be reminded of how many share the ethos of Culture Forward, not just across the local area, but across the world.

Hear from our students!

Ester Hakvoort: BA, Philosophy, Religion and Ethics

Hi everyone! My name is Ester and I was one of 9 students from the University of Birmingham to partake in the Eurocities Culture Forum work experience through Culture Forward. This was such a wonderful and inspiring work experience and I am immensely grateful to have been chosen for the opportunity. So grateful in fact that I would like to share a little glimpse of my experience and highlight my favourite parts of getting to partake in an international culture conference.

Eurocities is a network of European cities striving to make cities places where everyone can enjoy a good quality of life. The organisation organises forums all over the world, and this time the turn had come to Birmingham. The theme for this Culture Forum was: Future-Proofing Culture - How do cities integrate culture in the realisation of their social, economic, and planning admissions over the next ten years? The forum was structured over three days; a welcome and networking evening, a full day of conference with thematic visits, and a final day of reflections and learning. As a Conference Facilitator and Rapporteur, I got to be at the heart of the conference, taking part in the planned activities and helping to execute the conference.

I had the pleasure of being there to welcome the delegates arriving from 140 European cities and seeing them interact with the actors hired to play the Peaky Blinders. I got a chance to network with the most prominent culture representatives in the different European cities. I was very nervous about the networking and not knowing what to say, but luckily all the delegates I spoke to were really nice and friendly, asking questions about me and my interests as well. Although this was the only dedicated networking moment of the conference, in my experience, the networking continued to happen throughout the conference and I got a chance to talk to delegates from all over the world, especially during the thematic visit.

I got to welcome the delegates to the City Hall the following day and listen in on a keynote speech by Tom Fleming that taught me about the sustainability of culture, strategy presentations from Glasgow, Lyon, and Stuttgart presenting their strategies for the development of culture in their cities. We were encouraged to mix in with the other delegates and get involved in the discussions held at the different tables. Here, I felt like more of a delegate than a student which felt very inspiring.

As the second part of the second day the nine students got split up into the different thematic visits planned for the delegates. I partook in Thematic Visit 3: ‘Engaging Diverse Communities in Heritage’ where we visited Soho, an area of Birmingham I had never even been to! The visit was led by Legacy West Midlands and we heard from the Black Heritage Walks Network about their work on educating people on the black heritage of Birmingham, and Soho specifically, and got to experience a Black Heritage walk throughout the neighbourhood. We also heard from the Culture Officers at the City Council about how they work with the diverse heritage of Birmingham. It was so inspiring and educational to hear how the diverse nature of Birmingham as a city has inspired culture and decisions about culture.

On the final day, I had the honour of presenting my thoughts and reflections to the delegation at the Rep Theatre. I presented the importance of the Diversification of Heritage in Culture and what we had learned at the thematic visit the day prior. I got to practice my public speaking in front of all the delegates at the conference which was definitely nerve-racking but also rewarding hearing what the delegates thought of my speech afterward! As the final part of the conference, we got to join in on presentations by various companies working with cultural development and got to sit in on the closing ceremony, hearing from the Culture Team at the City Council and the Eurocities team.

All in all, this work experience was a massive learning opportunity for me. I learnt and practised networking skills, organisational skills, group leadership and taking personal responsibility, public speaking and international politics and relations. I hope one day I will get to take all the insight gained from conferences like this and implement it through policy-making decisions within international organisations, governmental bodies, or the NGO sector. My future plans and goals definitely include getting involved in international organisations or conferences. Although the topic of culture was not really on my radar before this opportunity, it certainly is now, and I am hoping to apply to the Young Leaders Programme for Urban Future which is led by the Eurocities organisation to further my involvement in this field.

I am really grateful for the opportunity to take part in the Eurocities Culture forum work experience! I would like to extend my gratitude to Culture Forward for offering this opportunity, along with the Culture Team at the City Council, the Eurocities team, and the organiser Clare Edwards, for making me feel so welcomed and involved in this opportunity.

Ester Hakvoort presenting
Ester Hakvoort presenting; Credit: David Furmage

Lauren Morton

BA Modern Languages

In early October, I had the opportunity to take part in a work placement at the Eurocities Culture Forum 2023, hosted by Birmingham City Council, serving as a conference facilitator and rapporteur. This year’s conference was focussed on ‘future-proofing culture’ and provided current cutting-edge insight on projects and research in the area. Working in an environment of European collaboration was greatly insightful and inspiring. The team we worked with were very friendly and interested in what we as interns wanted to gain from the experience, so the experience was positive and supported our personal growth as future professionals.

After university, I aspire to work in an international organisation, and therefore next year, I will complete a masters in International Relations to support my career aspirations. The internship really appealed to me as an exciting opportunity to gain experience of working in an environment of European collaboration. It was deeply inspiring to work in a multinational space of cooperation and knowledge exchange, and this has consolidated my goal of pursuing a career in International Relations.

As an intern, I supported conference organisation, facilitated panel discussion, aided in directing delegates to the correct locations, and networked with representatives from over 140 European cities. I also attended presentations by representatives from Glasgow, Stuttgart and Lyon on culture strategy, cultural cooperation and urban cultural development. I found it particularly exciting, watching European mayors sign the Eurocities Lille Call to Action on sustainable culture, which is a significant step towards reaching a more sustainable and culturally inclusive future for Europe and an important moment for inter-European relations. Policy making and European and international cooperation are personal interests of mine, and I am grateful for the experience to gain insight into some of the latest advancements in this field.

Each intern was assigned to accompany the delegates on a thematic stream visit to a particular arts organisation, and I was delighted to be assigned to ‘Major Urban Planning and Culture’. This consisted of a walking tour, viewing major developments, public artworks and ended in a presentation of Birmingham’s visioning document ‘The Future City Plan’ and panel discussion with representatives from the city council and local arts organisations, covering the opportunities and challenges that are faced in securing cultural infrastructure capital investment and the importance of culture and heritage in identity and placemaking.

Through this internship I had the chance to develop my professional skills, strengthening my communication, teamwork, organisation and customer service skills. Supporting the organisation and set up of the conference, I gained insight and experience in conference and events management. I enjoyed networking with representatives from different European municipalities, asking them questions and discussing the needs of their cities and their current projects, and the ways in which they vary depending on the specificities of each city and country, such as urban planning and climate conditions.

The conference was a celebration of Birmingham and its layered and unique culture. Having lived here in Birmingham for several years, and despite being from a different part of country, it was a wonderful opportunity to learn even more about the city and share with the delegates some of the it’s passion and dynamism.

One of the most memorable moments for me was the dinner held at the arts organisation, Soul City Arts, led by artist and curator Mohammed Ali MBE, which provided wonderful food by Raja Monkey and presented several short films which celebrate some stories of the city which often go untold or underrepresented. One of them was Knights of the Raj: The Story of Britain’s Bangladeshi-owned Indian Restaurants, which is an impactful short film and a dedication to the preserving of the heritage and history of Bangladeshi-owned Indian restaurants in Birmingham. Throughout the internship, I enjoyed helping promote to the delegates one of the prides of Birmingham, which is its cultural diversity.

Another standout moment of the experience was presenting my reflections and conclusions on the panel discussion, and the thematic visit I had facilitated, to the entire conference on the final day. I have always enjoyed public speaking but can find it stressful, and this was a remarkable confidence-building opportunity. It was exciting to present to a large group of people, outside of an academic environment, and in a field of particular interest to me. This speaking opportunity and the internship as a whole have enabled me to feel even more motivated and well equipped to pursue a career in International Relations and much more confident in my aspirations!

lauren presenting
Lauren Morton presenting; Credit David Furmage