The Oxford Muse has inaugurated its new Oxford Unmasked project with a Conversation Meal at West Oxford Primary School. Over 40 people from across the city took part in the event, which was held with the support of the home of Mini production, BMW Group Plant Oxford, and the cultural development agency Oxford Inspires.
There was a huge range of participants, including representatives and employees from the Oxford Night Shelter, Blackbird Leys Artists Group, Oxfam, Asian Cultural Centre, Oxfordshire Mind, Barclays Bank, Oxford Jobcentre Plus and BMW Group Plant Oxford. There were staff members from Oxford Brookes University, and a lecturer, students and two college porters from the University of Oxford. Others taking part were a folk musician, a lawyer, an accountant, a community worker, a builder, a cleaner, a chef, a graphic artist and cricketer, a photographer, a girl guide leader and a primary school teacher.
Each person sat with someone they didn't know and used an Oxford Muse Menu of Conversation to get beyond superficial talk and 'unmask' themselves. 'Dishes' on the menu included questions on topics such as friendship, family, compassion and aspirations. The conversation was accompanied by an organic, plant-based meal created by Miche Fabre Lewin.
Here is what some of those taking part in the meal had to say about their experiences:
'Excellent, I thoroughly enjoyed it; learnt a lot from my companion about religion, Islam, Pakistan and his own perspectives and philosophy on life which was surprising. I may try Muse Conversation Meals with my key colleagues for team building, particularly where there are teams with a number of newer staff.'
'It was absolutely wonderful! Thank you so much for providing this opportunity. I do not remember when was the last time I had this kind of conversation with anyone.'
'I really enjoyed myself so much more than I imagined I would. I spoke about something really difficult that I haven't been able to talk about, which is healing. My partner helped me come to a solution to a problem.'
'The Conversation Menu is a fantastic idea. I enjoyed meeting, talking to and listening to my conversation partner and she has restored my faith in younger people and tolerance of different people in the world.'
'The food was great - really unusual and a talking point in itself. My conversation partner was not quite as different to me as I had expected...maybe that's part of the point...'
All photographs by Kate Raworth