Sharing Forgotten Stories

Oxford is renowned as a place of history and academic prominence.

It attracts visitors from all over the world with its famous dreaming spires, and its connections with iconic fiction and groundbreaking research. Unfortunately this status on the international stage means that the voice of the local residents often gets drowned out amidst the bustling footsteps of tourists and students. For many residents, the heart of the city is a place they avoid unless absolutely necessary, and when they do enter, they are corralled through by closed doors, high walls, and the generic (often empty) shop fronts of international brands and souvenir gift stores. All while tripping over sightseers and loud, entitled young scholars who seem to feel much more welcome in the city’s centre than its long term residents do.

Many of Oxford’s population feel that the city centre is a place designed primarily to exclude locals, in favour of attracting and extracting wealth from the deep pockets of free spending tourists and rich students of the University. Wealth which most residents of Oxford never see. Many of Oxford’s long term residents live in the city's less affluent wards which are among the 20% most deprived in the country, in fact the area I have lived in for most of my life ranks in the 10% most underserved awards in England, there is a difference in male life expectancy of 13 years between my estate and and a more privileged ward just a 20 minute bike ride to the north. The role of the local Oxford resident in the city centre is that of the college porter, the retail assistant, the restaurant worker or the street sweeper. Oxford residents commonly report feeling like outsiders in their own city; this is known locally as “The Town and Gown Divide”.

My name is Rawz, I’m a Multimedia Artist, and I’ve lived in Oxford for almost my whole life, very much on the “Town” side of the centuries old divide. Until 2021 I had never set foot in an Oxford University College, let alone considered working with the institution as an Artist. Partly due to the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020, and partly due to opportunities I created for myself, I have spent much of the last 3 years working with this institution, one which I had previously only felt indifference from at best.

If you’ve ever been into Oxford city centre, you may have noticed the amount of walking tours on offer. There’s tours of the Colleges, tours of the University guided by Alumni, Alice in Wonderland tours, Harry Potter tours, Inspector Morse tours, anything a TOURist could want… but where is the tour for the people who call this historic city home? What is there in this tourist capital for the people who work to keep the city’s retail, tourist and academic economies moving?

Armed with these questions, and motivated by my own experiences of working and hanging out in the city centre throughout my life, I created Forgotten Stories Of Oxford; a collection of Spoken Word poetry which also forms a unique tour of Oxford city centre. With help and funding from the University of Oxford’s T.O.R.C.H. (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) team I worked with Researchers and Historians from inside and outside the university to discover more about the history of my city, and investigate narratives that have piqued my interest throughout my time living here. I combined these stories with memories and reflections relating to my own personal experiences to complete the collection. This was a highly effective methodology and one of the biggest difficulties I faced was narrowing the leads I had down to a manageable amount, the original intention was to create a collection of 10 stories, we ended up with 11 and could easily have had more, a sequel is a definite possibility!

One of my main aims with the project was to portray stories connected to the lives of people who have walked Oxford's historic streets. I wanted to take the audience off the well beaten tourist trail, and offer a perspective overlooked in many conventional tours. Through this work I hope to encourage individuals to discover an alternative perspective of the city, unveiling a dimension often concealed beneath the refined image Oxford has always projected to the world. By extending this invitation, I want to rekindle a sense of connection and belonging among Oxford’s long term population, the people who call the city home.

Forgotten Stories of Oxford is not only for lifelong Oxford residents though, it is for anyone intrigued by the prospect of uncovering a different dimension of this city. I want to promote a new view, highlighting that Oxford is more than a University, it is a city with a rich tradition of rebels, change makers, and hard working people; unsung heroes from all walks of life.

The project was launched in September 2023 with a month-long public exhibition at central Oxford Arts Centre The Old Fire Station. It featured a collection of objects, images, and videos linked to the narratives. While the exhibition has now drawn to a close, the "Forgotten Stories of Oxford" remain, and audience members have the opportunity to embark on this journey at their own pace, stepping into Oxford's rich history in variety of ways:

Bespoke In-Person Tours, providing a tailored experience for participants. These tours are available in durations of 1 hour, 1.5 hours, or 2 hours and offer a personalised journey through locations chosen by the participants themselves. During these tours, I perform the connected poetry, share insights into the stories that inspired the pieces, and engage with questions from the audience. People can connect with me via email or social media if they would like to arrange an in person tour.

For a self-guided experience, there are several options; visit The Old Fire Station and pick up a free limited edition printed map (while stocks last). “The Hidden Spire” is one of the locations on the tour and provides the perfect starting point for self-guided travellers. For a more flexible exploration, a free PDF map is accessible online, allowing audiences to visit the locations in any order at their own convenience.

Online platforms such as Google Earth and Story Maps also host the tour, enabling virtual participants to immerse themselves in the hidden narratives of Oxford from anywhere in the world.

Participants anywhere can also access recordings of me performing the poems online, these can augment physical tours or form a key part of an online experience. Some of the poems are accompanied by beautiful short films recorded in the associated locations, enhancing the words with stunning visuals.

To experience this unique exploration, you can access all necessary information, including maps and online links, at Forgotten Stories Of Oxford’s official Link Tree:


Rawz is a Multidisciplinary Artist from Oxford. His practice centres around words and music, and is rooted in social justice and the exploration and understanding of our interconnected worlds. Rawz’ story is one of extreme contrast and determination against the odds, themes that he often explores in all aspects of his work. From leaving school with no GCSEs, to becoming Resident Sound Artist at St John’s College, Oxford, one of the world’s most prestigious learning institutions, Rawz’ journey stands as testament to his resilient character, and strong work ethic.

Starting out as an MC and Poet and growing up in one of the UK’s most under-served areas, Greater Leys in Oxford, he first discovered lyric writing in his early teens, finding it an essential way to channel his emotions and organise his thoughts. Since then, Rawz has performed his craft all over Europe, collaborated with musicians from all over the world, and shared stages with some of his childhood heroes.

As his practice as a Poet and Musician developed, Rawz began to explore other means of expression; returning to experiment with a range of mediums he had loved as a child including collage, sculpture, videography, photography and more, bringing these skills together with his poetry and music to create projects which combine a range of media.

Through Art, Rawz shares his exploration of interconnection and interdependence. His responses often promote outer change and advancement through inner reflection, and positive action.

To connect with Rawz on social media use the following links, he would love to hear about your experiences of the tour and what stories you uncovered!


Top image credit: Katy Dawkins. Forgotten Stories of Oxford Map Page 2
Second image credit: Rawz. Colonial Theme Park 1