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Uncovering the true history of Guildford

Equality and diversity are a central part of our Council's values and recent events in America and the UK have led us to ensure we are telling the true story of our borough's past. We are forward thinking and committed to supporting equal opportunities for all, we value the diversity of thought and attitude that our community brings.

As a local authority we are fortunate to hold our own collection of historic artefacts and objects within our Heritage Service. As part of a refreshed strategy and following many museums nationally, we had planned on reviewing the origins of our collections held in our museum. We have possessions from all over the world and we want to tell their whole story.

Part of the review plan was to begin to 'decolonise' our collection. This means we will consider each piece with particular awareness to any links to our country's colonial past, including in the context of any racial bias.

Auditing the collection in this way will involve considering where we received the object from, how we obtained it and whether we should return it to its place of origin to be displayed there.

Having this information will allow us to give the full background of the object and explain in more depth to our residents and visitors any links to our colonial history. Although we have made great strides in the equality agenda in this country, and transformative progress has unquestionably been made over the last two decades, it is important that we recognise prejudice still exists and we still have some way to go.

We need to have all the facts so that we can be clear when we explain the history in context. For example, this may mean some items came here as part of the slave trade, have family connections to plantations or seafarers involved in slavery. When we start to review the collection in this way with the renewed interest in discovering these connections with the past we will have a better understanding of the full history.

Lead Councillor for Environment, Cllr James Steel explains: 'The murder of George Floyd last month sent visible shockwaves around the world. The act highlighted the many deaths and mass injuries suffered by black people in America. It has acted as a call to action for the injustice suffered by black people throughout the world. The resulting protests have also shone a light on the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on the BAME community.'

'I attended the Black Lives Matter protest in Guildford on the 6 June along with over 800 other Guildford residents. It was powerful to see that even in leafy Surrey there was a build-up of anger and a desire to see a change in the way people of different skin colour are treated in society at large.'

He adds: 'I'm reassured that as an innovative and inclusive Council we can champion an initiative like this. Our vision is to shine a light on our borough's incredible history making it accessible to all of our residents and visitors. There is much to be done to break down the barriers facing the BAME community and to tackle conscious and unconscious bias to empower those who feel restricted or unheard - and we are listening. This project shows how as a Council we are constantly challenging ourselves putting equality of opportunity at the forefront of policy and decision so that together we make sure our borough is a place where not one person is discriminated against.'

Our newly refreshed museum is now open and welcoming back visitors after a year long closure for essential repairs. The fresh modern space opens with a temporary exhibition 'Commemoration and Celebration' to commemorate Guildford's experience of Victory in Europe Day, marking the 75th anniversary since the end of World War II throughout Europe and provides another free attraction to visit in our historic town

Published on 23 July 2020