City to celebrate diverse contribution to Swansea history in response to Black Lives Matter review

Swansea is set to do more to celebrate the contribution made by people from different cultures and backgrounds to the development and history of the city.

A major review looked at place names, statues and other ways in which the city has commemorated local and world events and people in the past.

It is being presented to Cabinet next week (March 18) and was commissioned in the wake of a Full Council notice of motion which called for the issue to be looked into following the Black Lives Matter protests.

The review said there is no evidence that the very few people who are commemorated in statues in Swansea had any known link to the slave trade but those statues that exist mainly commemorate ‘city fathers’ rather than the diverse figures who make Swansea what it is today.

It recommends that officers should work with community groups and representative organisations to uncover the hidden histories and characters of Swansea’s past and present, to create a new set of records that could be considered when naming new streets, public places, or landmarks.

Some existing place or street names do have links to people or families associated with the slave trade with the most prominent being Sir Thomas Picton who has a recorded history of cruelty and exploitation of slavery.

The council will engage with the leaseholders on considering renaming the Arcade and a new name for the soon to be developed public space behind the Kingsway, historically named as Picton Lane and Picton Yard.

Picton Arcade that runs between Swansea’s Oxford Street and Kingsway (Image: Google Maps)

The review is also suggesting more be done – including historical study and the use of technology – to improve interpretation of the city’s heritage.

Across the city, the recommendation is to provide information and interpretation to places named for individuals and families with links to exploitation, as well as new ideas for telling the story of Swansea.  For example, an artist has written a study of the Brangwyn Panels, which tell the story of the British Empire, and QR Codes linked to history sites are already in place at Maesteg House.

It also calls for plans to develop a better understanding of the city’s heritage in collaboration with Welsh Government and by working with local schools. Archive services are preparing learning materials for the national curriculum already.

Robert Francis-Davies, Cabinet Member for Investment, Regeneration and Tourism, said: “Swansea is proud to be called a City of Sanctuary and to be home to residents speaking more than 100 different languages. Everyone is welcome here.

“The review has suggested we need to develop a more balanced understanding of our city’s heritage which more clearly recognises the modern as well as historical influences women, LGBT+ and people of black, Asian and other minority heritage had on our communities.

“Street and place names, statues and landmarks have always been a traditional way to commemorate significant people or events in the history of our communities – not just in Swansea but around the entire UK.

“The review outlines where we are now on that journey and how we can continue to use such landmarks to tell the stories of who we are. With all our new buildings, places and walkways emerging, it’s never been a better time.

“Just recently the new walkway connecting the city centre with the Copr Bay development has been named for Cyril Cupid and we are unveiling a blue plaque later this month to commemorate the life and achievements of Jessie Donaldson – a prominent anti-slavery campaigner.

“These are the start of us exploring and taking opportunities to highlight the achievements of all our local people and their contribution to the wider world, not just the industrialist families.”

A new street being built as part of the Copr Bay development s named after Cyril Cupid who has Welsh and West Indian heritage (Image: Swansea Council)

Cllr Francis-Davies said the review suggested other actions could also be effective in improving understanding of the city’s heritage in a more balanced way – including creating temporary artwork and heritage information so all residents and visitors to the city can learn more about the shaping of Swansea through the generations.

He said: “The working group set up to look into the issue has done some important work in setting out where we are now and presenting ideas for next steps, next steps which include engaging with local communities about our city, will help ensure we can continue to be a place which respects all of us who are part of it.”

(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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