Many lessons can be learnt from what happened in the past, especially when many of the impacts are still felt today. Understanding our history remains as important as ever. Since the day that Colston’s statue was pulled down in June 2020, particularly during its temporary display at M Shed, Bristol has come together to ask important questions about our city’s heritage. We must continue trying to do better, fuller history.
It was through the We Are Bristol History Commission that we held a citywide conversation about the future of the statue and how we can build and present a better understanding of our history for this generation and the next. Nearly 14,000 people responded to the commission’s survey, with local residents and people from further afield taking part. The vast majority (80 per cent) of Bristol residents who responded agreed that the best place for the statue in future was in one of our museums.
The History Commission made the same recommendation in their report. To help make this a reality, an application to regularise the legal position of the listed asset, away from its plinth, has recently been submitted which will go to a planning committee early in the new year. It was submitted following discussions with Historic England, the government advisory body responsible for designating listed buildings, as part of the pre-application process.
Alongside this, a new M Shed exhibition is being developed and will open in March 2024, refreshing the theme of ‘protest’ in the People gallery. This will include Colston’s statue as part of an exhibit focusing on racial injustice. More details on the exhibition will be released nearer the time.
The progress that has been made so far is a testament to the strength of feeling in Bristol and the dedicated work of all those who have been involved. I thank them for all they have done before the History Commission formally comes to an end in November. The work they have started will be taken forward by the Bristol Legacy Foundation, which has more plans for acknowledging our city’s history in the trafficking of enslaved African people.
If we want to be a city that is fully inclusive and fair to all, then race equality is a topic that needs to remain firmly on our agenda. Great strides have been made but the conversation is by no means over. Standing together, we remember what happened before us, agree what happens right now and create a legacy of our own that sits proudly alongside our history and not in its shadows.