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Tower Hamlets champions anti-racism and equality in review of statues, buildings and other public sites


Tower Hamlets Council is asking its residents to contribute to the ongoing conversation about how issues of race and equality are represented in the borough’s public spaces.

The call for contributions is part of a new pledge, announced today, in response to the debate that has risen to prominence following the killing of George Floyd in the United States, the subsequent global protest and the removal of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol two weeks ago.

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “A fortnight ago we removed a statue of slave trader Robert Milligan from West India Quay. In doing so we made it clear that we have heard the calls from the Black Lives Matter movement and we are committed to re-examining how we live up to our core values of anti-racism and equality. We have a proud modern history in Tower Hamlets of championing diversity and standing up to discrimination, but there is more we can do.

“In the coming weeks, we are asking our residents to tell us if there are monuments, plaques, buildings, roads or other representations of history, in our borough, that they feel are at odds with the values that we all want to live by. The contributions we receive will form the basis of a conversation and ultimately a decision-making process that will have the community at its heart.”

The opportunity for residents to suggest places in Tower Hamlets that they feel need to be part of the review starts today (Monday 22 June) and will last until midnight on Sunday 12 July.

The suggestions will be reviewed with a range of possible outcomes including but not limited to relocation, the addition of explanatory information, renaming or removal. In some cases, it may be decided that no action is necessary at all. In the coming weeks, more details will be made available about how the council will ensure genuine community involvement in reaching those eventual decisions.

Residents should visit talk.towerhamlets.gov.uk/publicspaces to take part and have their say.

That is also where they can leave their thoughts about under-representation in public spaces – not only in terms of race, but also on issues across the equalities landscape including but not limited to civil rights, workers’, women’s and LGBTQ+ rights and more. Specifically, we’re asking them to identify and nominate other names, particularly of under-represented groups, who have done something memorable and who we should celebrate.

Councillor Asma Begum, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Equalities, said: “As well as telling us about existing sites that they feel should be part of this review, we also want residents to tell us about issues, achievements or individuals that they feel are under-represented in our public spaces.

“These suggestions will help us to ensure that the full breadth of our rich social history is accurately and proportionately reflected moving forward. This important discussion is not only about re-examining our past, but also about positively shaping our future.”

In the coming weeks, the council will also be making changes to existing policies governing the naming of streets and buildings, as well as the placement of monuments, art and other fixtures in the public realm. These changes will ensure that any decision-making process has values such as tolerance and respect for diversity embedded at its core.