Hyped about Heritage
Every community has a story to tell, and Mr Kwek Li Yong (Arts and Social Sciences ’13), who has made preserving heritage his day job, plans to collect them all.
Tucked away in a row of shops at the void deck of Block 463 Commonwealth Drive is a modestly-sized museum filled with treasures from old Queenstown. Bowling pins from an alley that no longer exists, a vintage television set, old store signs and other well-preserved bric-a-brac are meticulously curated within Museum @ My Queenstown, capturing the heritage of the area. The man responsible for this novel set-up is NUS alumnus and Economics graduate Mr Kwek Li Yong.
Opened in January 2019, the museum is a product of more than 10 years of legwork in the area. Over this time, Mr Kwek and his team — comprising some 500 volunteers — have been going door-to-door collecting stories from residents, conducting tours, as well as hosting carnivals and block parties in Queenstown. “The interest sparked when I was 17, and was volunteering as a befriender to elderly residents in the area,” he explains. “Many were eager to share stories about the neighbourhood and how it was like in the past.”
“Heritage is multifarious; it is also intangible. Every physical space, building, structure, object or even artifact is meaningless unless there is a story wrapped around it. The collective memories attached to these tangible items make them significant.”
Mr Kwek Li Yong, President and co-founder of My Community
Mr Kwek was intrigued by their sense of belonging to the community, and his own affinity for the past began to take shape. The now 29-year-old went on to pursue a Masters in Heritage Studies in Sydney, and the rest, as they say, is history. When he returned to Singapore, Mr Kwek founded My Community, a registered charity and an Institution of Public Character, which “documents social memory, celebrates civic life and champions community heritage.”
Studying economics to appease his parents turned out not to be a waste of time. “Heritage companies are typically underfunded by the state. So we have to be self-sufficient and look for our own sources of funding and support,” Mr Kwek lets on. “Knowledge in finances and budgets, data management and analysis, became a useful tool.” The company’s end-goal is for every community in Singapore to have a heritage tour and museum driven by residents. Says Mr Kwek: “Every community has a story to tell, and it is our privilege to bring people together so they can share their fondness for and memories of a particular area. That’s when heritage comes alive.”
To find out more about the tours and programmes organised by My Community, or to come forward as a volunteer, visit mycommunity.org.sg
Text by Fairoza Mansor. Main photo by Alvin Teo.