South Asian Heritage Month: The power of stories - a blog by our Chief Executive, Matt Westmore

Last updated on 18 Jul 2023

Today marks the start of South Asian Heritage Month, a joyous celebration of the rich and diverse tapestry of South Asian culture, traditions, and contributions to the UK. I am delighted to kick off this year's celebrations within the HRA under the theme 'Stories to Tell'.

Throughout the month, we aim to honour the stories that have shaped us, educate, and foster a deeper understanding of the South Asian community's immense impact within the UK, the HRA and health and social care research.

A headshot of Dr Matt Westmore

Why are stories important?

Stories are not important.

Wait, what! I can hear you thinking, Matt didn’t read the brief again.

The power of stories is not in the fact that they exist; it's the fact that they are shared. Imagine if the Ramayana, the Sanskrit epic and literary masterpiece, had been written but never read? More importantly, given its rich poetic and lyrical language, imagine if the Ramayana had never been spoken out loud. Stories are not important; storytelling is important.

OK, so why is story telling so important?

Story telling isn’t important.

Wait, what!?

Imagine if the Ramayana had been read aloud, but no one was there to listen. Imagine if it had never been shared between people or translated into multiple languages and shared between peoples. It would still have been the same masterpiece, but would it hold immense cultural and literary significance in South Asia and the South Asian diaspora? Of course not.

Stories are not important, storytelling is not important – these are necessary but not sufficient - Story sharing is important. The power of sharing stories comes as much from the listening as it does from the telling.

And so, as we celebrate, commemorate, and educate over the coming month, I would be honoured if people from South Asian heritage would share their stories.  And I encourage us all, especially those of us not from the South Asian diaspora, to enjoy listening, and truly listen, to the rich tapestry of these stories.

A Tapestry of Stories

South Asian Heritage Month is a time for us to reflect on the remarkable stories that have woven the fabric of our society. The epic tales that illuminate the complexities of human nature, exploring universal themes of love, sacrifice, and the struggle for power and peace. But also, the much simpler stories of individual experiences, families, friends, growing-up, travel, food, and culture. These stories provide us with a profound understanding of our shared history. They inspire us to celebrate our interwoven past, cherish our shared present, and look together for a brighter future built on inclusivity, appreciation, and a sheer joy of all our similarities and differences.

One of the most striking aspects of South Asian heritage is its incredible diversity. Spanning countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, The Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. South Asia encompasses a wealth of cultures, languages, traditions, and faiths. Within this diversity, we find unity—a shared heritage that binds people together, transcending borders and generations.

Throughout South Asian Heritage Month, I hope to hear a multitude of stories representing the myriad experiences and remarkable contributions of the South Asian diaspora in the UK and within the HRA. These stories will touch upon the arts, music, literature, cuisine, science, innovation, sports, and much more.

I see a lot of parallels with the idea of the power of sharing stories in our work on public involvement in research. And our priority include: ensure research is done with and for everyone. In good health and social care research, it is not enough to just measure things like blood pressure, life expectancy, response to treatment, and the like. We want to hear about patient experience, preference, and communities. The parallel extends to the importance of listening as well as telling stories. If we don't listen to patients and the public in our work, what's the point of them telling us? Our work on inclusion is all about creating the space and time for people to be able to share their stories, to talk about what is important to them, and most importantly, to create the culture within HRA and research where we are listening and act on what we hear.

And so…

And so, I am looking forward to reading and hearing many stories throughout the month. Stories told through the written or spoken word, stories expressed through dance or drama, stories shared through the food we enjoy or the clothes we wear. I hope to hear epic stories, tales of triumph and great achievement, narratives of fear and struggle, stories of hope and joy. But more than that, I am eager to hear the smaller stories—the stories of everyday life, stories of people, your stories. These may include historical stories that are written (or should be but are not) in the history books. However, what excites me the most is hearing your stories—the stories from HRA staff, the HRA Community, and all our wider friends and partners. If you are willing and able to share your stories, I would be honoured to listen.

Matt Westmore, HRA's Chief Executive
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