‘Whose Statues? Whose Stories?’ was a series of online workshops led by Dr Sadia Habib that brought together young people, researchers and spoken word artists to examine monuments in their local areas and produce creative responses.

After beginning work with colleagues on a research project at the Centre for Dynamic Ethnicity (CoDE) studying the changing shape of cultural activism, exploring perspectives on processes of contesting and removing statues that memorialise histories of slavery and colonialism, Dr Habib was keen to specifically research young people’s stories about statues in their towns and cities.

The aim was to learn more about young people’s experiences, posing questions such as: how do young people feel about the figures memorialised in stone in the spaces they call home? What narratives are young people keen to share with one another? What do they think should happen to these statues? How do they talk about these reminders of the histories of empire and colonialism? And importantly what can educators and museums staff learn from young people who can perfectly capture the zeitgeist of the post-Colston period in UK history?

Over a series of weekly workshops, the young participants heard from academics, journalists and poets (Dr Meghan Tinsley, Dr Chloe Peacock, Dr Ruth Ramsden-Karelse, Professor Gary Younge, Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan and Muneera Pilgrim), each exploring their own perspective and approach to themes of colonial legacies, statues and memorialisation, culminating in a creative workshop where each individual responded to the discussions held with a freewrite and poetry recitals. One of the young people described the atmosphere as “creative and inclusive”, and others commented on the depth of learning.

The project was not static in its progress, and did not simply end with the final workshop, Instead, multiple opportunities for sharing and creative learning came to fruition as a result of the work that had occurred, including:

  • A poetry workshop ‘Belonging: Space & Place’ led by an OSCH collective member during South Asian Heritage Month 2021, for young people to explore themes of identities, decolonisation, as well as statues of empire & colonialism.

  • A resource/zine designed which pulls together testimonials, photos, creative responses and reflections from the original workshops.

  • Recordings of poems by two young people - Hawwa Alam and Amina Beg - from the Manchester Museum OSCH Collective that were written during the final WSWS workshop, which also featured in a CoDE video with Dr Ruth Ramsden-Karelse.

  • A panel discussion ‘From Bristol to Manchester: History and Memory in our Cities’ which included Dr Sadia Habib and one young collective member - Rowan Hasan - and poetry performances by two other young people, Amina Beg and Samihah Mudabbir.

"I had never considered the complexity of removing the statues themselves and how the removal has to be thought about, rather than just petitioning for them to be taken down. So this workshop provided me with a new outlook."

Participant from the workshop