More needs to be done to commemorate underrepresented groups

Published 25/03/2021   |   Last Updated 25/03/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

The Senedd’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee is calling for the commissioning of new statues or commemorative artworks in Wales to address the lack of diversity of those commemorated in public spaces.

Groups such as women; disabled people; Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people and LGBT+ people are all underrepresented, the Committee has outlined.

The Committee has carried out an inquiry looking at the way historical figures are remembered in Wales’ public spaces. The Committee explored how society determines who gets remembered; what principles might be used to determine acts of commemoration; and the process that could, or should, be followed if people want something removed.

Welsh national plaque scheme

The Committee is calling for the creation of a new national ‘Plac y Ddraig’ scheme of public commemoration and for a ‘national conversation’ on the initial tranche of plaques. The Committee is hoping the scheme would help to raise awareness of our history and how it relates to the Wales of today and the Wales of tomorrow.

The scheme proposed by the Committee should be accompanied by funding, with every local authority area taking part, within a national framework overseen by the Welsh Government.

Decisions made by communities

As part of its inquiry, the Committee heard conflicting opinions on the removal of statues. Opinions ranged from blanket opposition to the removal of any statues to others who questioned the purpose and relevance of statues at all.

On the question of removing contentious statues, the Committee stated its view that local communities should give full consideration to the range of options available such as providing more information and context. The report recommends that decisions on who should be commemorated should be made by communities and local authorities but the Welsh Government must provide more ‘leadership and guidance’. The Committee is calling for guidance to include:

  • advice on best practice for consulting local communities
  • advice on methods for engaging ‘harder to reach’ and minority groups     
  • advice on involving specialist opinion, including local historians.

Bethan Sayed MS, Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee said:

“In Wales we were shocked by the events in the summer of 2020 and the tragic death of George Floyd. The wave of protest that followed ignited a debate about who we remember in our public spaces.

“There is much in our history to be proud of, but that pride we all feel should not blind us from some of the more egregious events that have also taken place in our past – the legacy of which is still being felt today.

“We’re keen for communities to have the final say on who should be commemorated in their areas but we believe the Welsh Government should show leadership and provide guidance on how to involve all parts of the community.

“Diversity is a serious problem and the overwhelming majority of statues across Wales are commemorating white men. It’s time that we addressed this and created new statues or commemorative artworks that recognise the contributions of women; disabled people; Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people and LGBT+ people as well.

“Our recommendation for a new Welsh national plaque scheme, ‘Plac y Ddraig’, could begin to address the imbalances and involve the whole community in commemorating the great people who have contributed to our country.”