In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, we wanted to reassure our supporters, the citizens of Birmingham and the wider public of what our commitments are, and what our vision has always been. We stand in solidarity with the reality that statements are not enough to tackle racism action is required and this action must come from all of us.
Since the Chamberlain Highbury Trust was formed in April 2016 trustees have been committed to preserving Highbury ‘for the benefit of the citizens of Birmingham’ as originally intended by the Chamberlain family in 1919. One hundred years later in a much more diverse city our commitments are to:
• ensure that Highbury is an inclusive place, reflecting the diversity and culture of our city
• be welcoming to visitors from around the UK and internationally
• be a place to learn about the history of Highbury, home of the Chamberlain family from
1880 to 1914 and the way this place shaped the world
The Chamberlain Highbury Trust is still some years away from realising its vision and opening up a revitalised Highbury estate. There is still a large multi-million pound restoration to complete before it can embark upon some of the actions it wishes to take.
Colonial History & Heritage
Whilst living at Highbury, Joseph Chamberlain was Colonial Secretary from 1895 to 1903 and was in office during the Second Boer war in South Africa.
Prior to that he had sent his son, Neville Chamberlain to the island of Andros in the Bahamas to set up a Sisal plantation in 1891, a venture that ultimately failed.
As Colonial Secretary Chamberlain supported British imperialism and expansionism, during its late 19th century high point, claiming “The British race is the greatest of the governing races the world has ever seen”. He sought to drive Britain’s economy through its Imperial policy and the exploitation of subject territories. Subject populations – those outside the self-governing ‘white’ dominions – had minimal political rights. What is certain is that this aspect of Chamberlain’s story – including movements for colonial freedom at the time – has not been as well researched as Radical Joe’s achievements in forming our city.
We have committed to working with historians, including Joseph Chamberlain’s most recent biographer Professor Peter Marsh, to throw light on this part of Highbury’s history making.
Our starting point is to open up the historical evidence to much wider debate and interpretation about the role of Chamberlain and the legacy of his policies. We are committed to a public history project informed by academics and historians working alongside the public to explore and research the sources that reveal the nature of the Chamberlain’s colonial activity and its effects. We want to explore perspectives from historians and commentators from other Commonwealth backgrounds and Birmingham’s People of Colour, to properly interpret the Chamberlain legacy ‘good and bad’. By working alongside the public we hope to understand the colonial story of the Chamberlains in a way that is reflective of the citizens of today’s city.
This means that our understanding as a Trust will develop over time and become richer as more perspectives are brought to bear. This citizen research will help form our permanent public offer for all.
We support the statement from Arike Oke, Director of the Black Cultural Archives and commit to proactively take action on racism as a heritage organisation.
We will explore the theme of colonialism through our events, the interpretation used in our
exhibitions, educational programmes and youth leadership programme.
Joseph, Austen and Neville Chamberlain were leaders who left a lasting impression and impact upon our society today. With open-minded and radical thinking as our cornerstone we want to welcome young leaders into Highbury to challenge the status quo and current decision making structures by knowing and recognising the history of the past to inform the decision making of the future.
Structural racism is part of the system that we must dismantle. Leadership must reflect the society that we now live in. Birmingham is a young and diverse city in which more than 100 languages are spoken. We must train and equip the leaders of the future to change our organisations to better represent our societal values of fairness and equality. In many of our institutions, private and public, in senior leadership roles and at board level, the representation of Black people in particular, is unacceptably low.
We are already working on developing partnerships with organisations to develop an educational programme focused on the governance skills, strategic thinking and team working skills needed at leadership levels within all organisations. We are also focusing on building pathways through schools and colleges to help young people realise their ability to promote social change. At present we are working alongside The Governance Forum and the Future Leaders Network on our pilot programmes.
We already have a youth board with a diverse membership which is working to shape our activity. We intend to provide training and support to these young people and hope that some will join our trustee board as a natural progression into leadership. Our current trustee board is age and gender diverse (the youngest being 32 years old and with 50% female board members) but lacks representation from other racial or ethnic backgrounds. We therefore see our youth board as part of our succession planning and will work with organisations to promote the role of trustee within the Black community.
We will continue to announce further details of our plans as we launch them and welcome
feedback and ideas from our supporters and the public. We believe that open and collaborative working will build an inclusive society and a better heritage experience for all.
If you would like to work with us on this, have an idea or would like to volunteer with us please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on how the Heritage Sector are responding to the Black Lives Matter movement.