Southampton gallery shines a light on working-class experiences of University’s staff and students

An image featured in the Class Ceiling exhibition
An image featured in the Class Ceiling exhibition

Photographs exploring the working-class experiences of students and staff at the University of Southampton have gone on display at a city art gallery.

The Class Ceiling exhibition was produced and curated by the university’s Social Mobility Network and has opened at John Hansard Gallery.

Each photo offers a glimpse into the lived experience of the contributor, celebrating who they are and what they bring to the university, and our city.

And the poignant stories behind the images have been brought to life further in a recording where contributors share what their photo means to them.

Savanna Cutts, Student Inclusion Manager and co-chair of the Social Mobility Network, is one of those who features in the exhibition.

She said: "The photo is of me and two of my sisters. We don’t have many childhood photos, unfortunately, and it reflects a key time during my childhood in which we became a single father household.

"We were already living within a low-income background and upbringing and throughout my childhood I had to face many challenges financially and emotionally, including walking 50 minutes to primary school and working two jobs during sixth form.

"I didn’t let this stop me, however. I worked all the more harder just to try be on a level playing field with my peers, and education has always been a safe space and outlet for me/

"My experiences have fuelled resilience within me."

Melissa Allada, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officer, shared a photo of a recent visit to the London neighbourhood where she grew up.

She added: "I hope that people feel that they don’t have to hide their working-class background. "Often it takes the kindness of others or the right opportunities at the right time to change the course of someone else’s life.

"I want others to be mindful that not everyone has equal opportunities and if they have access to those opportunities or resources, there’s no harm in paying it forward."

Student, Khairah Boukhatem, shared a photo of herself showing she is a working-class British student and a daughter of an Algerian immigrant.

She said: "I wanted to put forward a photo that shows the relationship I had with my father as a child.

"As an Algerian immigrant there were many cultural barriers between us, ranging from language to religion.

"In spite of this, I wanted to show a picture that turned away from our differences and showed us for what we were - father and daughter. The picture comes from a free fete event that he took me to by the river, which is one of my fonder childhood memories."

The Class Ceiling exhibition is the Social Mobility Network’s first presentation at the University of Southampton’s John Hansard Gallery.

Opening times are Tuesday to Saturday 11:00 to 17:00 and the exhibition runs until 3 February.

John Hansard Gallery is located at 142’144 Above Bar Street, Southampton SO14 7DU, opposite Guildhall Square.

You can hear the contributors share the stories behind their photos here.