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Stortford Against Rhodes: Petitioners for Rhodes Arts Complex name change unite to form new campaign group



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Residents of Bishop’s Stortford are making a stand against racism by demanding the renaming of Rhodes Arts Complex.

The South Road venue commemorates the birthplace of businessman, politician and imperialist Cecil Rhodes, founder of the former Rhodesia in southern Africa, who is now reviled as a white supremacist.

Bishops Stortford General Views. The Rhodes Arts Centre. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (36326614)
Bishops Stortford General Views. The Rhodes Arts Centre. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (36326614)

In the wake of nationwide Black Lives Matters protests, three online petitions with more than 4,000 signatories have renewed demands for removal of his name from the centre.

The venue began as a memorial museum, financed by prominent Rhodesians in the 1930s. The premises were later extended and opened in 1963 as the Rhodes Memorial Museum and Commonwealth Centre. The buildings were refurbished to form the current complex in 2005.

Rhodes Birthplace Trust, which runs the venue with a £250,000 subsidy from the town council, is changing its name to the Bishop’s Stortford Museum and Arts Charitable Incorporated Organisation.

Cecil John Rhodes. (36326540)
Cecil John Rhodes. (36326540)

Chairwoman Deirdre Glasgow said: “We are already actively engaged in an ongoing process that will enable us to make sure that whatever name for the complex is decided on, it will be one that has been chosen in consultation with our many visitors and supporters and is truly reflective of the wishes of our local community.”

MP Julie Marson said: “I think that such a move would be very welcome and would better reflect our society and our modern, inclusive values.”

But newly-formed campaign group Stortford Against Rhodes, says this does not go far enough.

The group – comprising the three organisers of the online petitions plus five other local residents and students – wants the trust to:

  • rule out immediately the Rhodes name from any future branding;
  • set out a timeline for removing the name from existing branding;
  • commit to a campaign of education on the crimes of Cecil Rhodes that will include the voices of people of colour.

It said: “Whilst we appreciate the trust’s swiftness in meeting to discuss this issue, we would like to see immediate action to remove the name as well as commitment to further change.”

The pastor of Havers Community Church, David Akande, who is Nigerian and leads a predominantly black congregation, said: “I support changing the name of this building. As societies evolve and as we learn more of our past, we are challenged by our past in the hope we will make decisions today that future generations will be proud of.”

Speaking personally, Clive Weir, chairman of Churches Together Bishop’s Stortford, added: “We cannot be non-racist, we must be anti-racist... We need to critique our history, face up to injustice, apologise when necessary for past injustice and actively campaign for equality and justice for all.”

One of The Bishop’s Stortford High School’s six houses is called Rhodes.

Head Dale Reeve said: “Prior to the current lockdown, discussions had taken place in school as to whether we might reconsider the use of Rhodes as the name for one of our six houses. Given recent events in the US and the related protests in numerous countries, we feel it right to revisit this important issue with the student body.”

STORTFORD AGAINST RHODES' STATEMENT

Stortford Against Rhodes welcomes the promptness of the response of the Rhodes Birthplace Trust, but feels it does not go far enough.

Rhodes Arts Complex is primarily funded by the citizens of Bishop’s Stortford through taxes and donations, and as such should be inclusive of all members of the community.

The renaming is long overdue, and whilst we appreciate the trust's swiftness in meeting to discuss this issue, we would like to see immediate action to remove the name as well as commitment to further change.

The statement issued by the trust is a start, but does not fully address the concerns of the thousands of people who signed our petitions and posted their support online.

Anyone with access to the internet, with a quick search into Rhodes’ life, can see the atrocities he is guilty of. He was a colonialist who supported the murder of 60,000 people, enforced segregation of native Africans, disenfranchised them and limited their economic options. He was a white supremacist and not someone the signatories would like celebrated in this town. We need to educate the community on Cecil Rhodes, not exalt him.

We understand that Rhodes Birthplace Trust will be changing status to a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) and as such suggest that they are looking to change the name of the trust to The Bishop’s Stortford Museum and Arts CIO. However, we note that this is not a confirmation that the name of the Rhodes Arts Complex will be changed.

Stortford Against Rhodes call for Rhodes Birthplace Trust to address the following concerns on behalf of the community and citizens of Bishop’s Stortford imminently and without haste:

  • The Rhodes Birthplace Trust to immediately rule out the Rhodes name from any future branding of their venues and their organisation
  • To set out a timeline for the imminent removal of the Rhodes name from any existing branding
  • To commit to a campaign of education on the crimes of Cecil Rhodes, that will include the voices of people of colour

Stortford Against Rhodes is a community campaign set up by local residents and students who are committed to this cause and will continue to put pressure on local authorities and the trust until these issues have been addressed. The originators of the local change.org petitions who all called for the name change have united behind this cause.

You can sign the petitions at:

https://www.change.org/RenameRhodes

https://www.change.org/RenameRhodesBS

https://www.change.org/p/rhodes-arts-centre-rhodes-must-fall-rename-bishop-s-stortford-s-rhodes-arts-complex.

You can follow Stortford Against Rhodes on Facebook at @StortfordAgainstRhodes.

RHODES BIRTHPLACE TRUST STATEMENT

For the benefit of those who have not yet had the opportunity to read our interim statement issued on Monday (June 8), we would like to repeat here its opening sentence before moving on to respond to the requests we have had for additional information regarding our future proposals in the light of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

“We would first like to make it clear that we fully understand the international reaction to the events seen in Minneapolis on the 25th May; the abuse of power and disregard for basic human rights is unacceptable in any context and the Rhodes Birthplace Trust is unequivocal in its condemnation of such behaviours."

As many of you will be aware, the future of venue and the role it will play in the town has been under discussion for some time following the announcement of the intention to build a new arts venue as part of the Old River Lane development.

In anticipation of the likely changes that will be required of the Arts Complex, a working party was established slightly over two years ago to explore the issues and draw up some recommendations for future change. Although the start of this process considerably pre-dated the advent of the BLM protests, and in many cases they are still “work in progress”, their content is highly relevant and, given the circumstances, it seems appropriate to share one of them with you at this time.

In order to update and improve the governance arrangements for the complex in anticipation of the future challenges it will face, it was agreed that the Trust should seek to convert to a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO). This process was formally commenced with the Charity Commission approximately 5 months ago and is now well on its way to completion. The Trustees agreed some time ago that the new CIO will be called ‘The Bishop’s Stortford Museum and Arts CIO’ thereby replacing the name of its predecessor ‘The Rhodes Birthplace Trust’.

Once the new (Bishop’s Stortford Museum and Arts) CIO has been fully established (this will still take some time for the process to complete) it will start to set the parameters of what will be the new operating organisation. It has always been the intention for the (Bishop’s Stortford Museum and Arts) CIO to consult with local residents at that time to discuss proposals for the name of this organisation and the venue as a whole.

As I hope you can see, we are already actively engaged in an ongoing process that will enable us to make sure that whatever future name for the complex is decided on, it will be one that has been chosen in consultation with our many visitors and supporters and is truly reflective of the wishes of our local community.

Deirdre Glasgow, chair of Rhodes Birthplace Trust



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