Lessons from debate on statues
Our Chief Executive, Kieron Boyle, reflects on what we are learning as we explore our heritage and its impact on health today.
Findings from the work commissioned to inform the future of statues of two historic benefactors.
Today, we are publishing findings from work to inform the future of statues of benefactors Sir Robert Clayton and Thomas Guy. We own the statues of these men, who were benefactors to our endowment in the 17th and 18th Centuries, and whose contributions helped develop St Thomas’ and Guy’s hospitals.
As part of an emerging programme to understand our heritage and the impact of the legacy of slavery on health and healthcare today, two exploratory pieces of work were commissioned. Firstly, historical research confirmed that each man had connections to the trade of enslaved people. Informed by this research, and in line with advice from Historic England, we commissioned an independent public consultation to explore views on the statues from a wide range of audiences.
The consultation surfaced important themes around the symbolism of statues and their presence in the public realm, the prominence they are given, and the importance of telling the full histories of how these two men made their wealth. Based on considered analysis of the findings, the consultation concluded with the following recommendations to our board of Trustees:
We have taken the decision to implement these recommendations.
As both statues are listed, most changes will need planning permission. In preparation for this, we have commissioned specialist consultants to lead the development of interpretative materials, intended to accompany each statue and provide accessible histories of the two men, their contributions and their individual connections with the trade of enslaved people. Visitors to the sites will have the chance to explore further materials online.
We have also begun working with stakeholders and advisors to explore the practicalities of relocating the Thomas Guy statue. Legal advice indicates that achieving permission to move the statue is very unlikely in the short to medium term due to current planning legislation and political sentiment. Timelines for any changes to this statue will also be impacted by a COVID-19 vaccination centre occupying its current location, which will prevent access to the statue until at least 2022.
As we pursue these actions, we will continue to work with all relevant authorities including Lambeth and Southwark councils, Historic England and the Mayor of London, as well as with partners Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.
Kieron Boyle, our Chief Executive, says:
“Like many organisations in Britain, slavery is part of our history, and we believe we have a duty to address its legacies. Being a charitable foundation focused on improving health involves tackling the health inequalities we see every day affecting Black communities, and making sure the public realm surrounding hospitals is welcoming to everyone.
“Last year we committed to making decisions on the statues of Sir Robert Clayton and Thomas Guy based on a strong understanding of the facts, and the views held about them. Through the independent consultation, we heard from a broad range of voices, including those communities most local to the statues. We sought to balance these in making our decision.
“The consultation has recommended that we retain both statues in the public realm, provide information explaining how both men made their wealth, and move one of the statues to a less prominent position. It has also suggested that we commission new artistic works to tell the rich story of those involved in the hospitals’ history.
“We recognise that these can be polarising debates and are grateful for the wide range of views that shaped these independent recommendations. We are committed to seeing all the changes through. The pace at which we can proceed will depend on planning legislation and political sentiment, as well as the immediate need to prioritise the delivery of COVID-19 vaccinations on the site of the Thomas Guy statue. We have begun by commissioning comprehensive interpretation to accompany each statue.”
We are committed to tackling the impact of racism on health inequalities and supporting greater diversity within the Foundation and our work. Part of this is building a better understanding of our heritage and the impact of that legacy on health and healthcare today. To support this, we are working to increase the diversity of voices celebrated in the public realm through our arts collection and commissions within healthcare settings; and to understand further any historical links of our endowment with discriminatory practices.
Find out more about our decision and what we’re learning as we explore our heritage in this reflection from our Chief Executive.
The historical review was carried out by academics who specialise in Caribbean slavery and the colonial past of British institutions, and who were based at King’s College London. The piece has been peer-reviewed by professionals from Black Cultural Archives and the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project at University College London.
The independent consultation was led by David Bryan CBE of Xtend and Dr Samina Zahir, who have a combined record of over 45 years of experience across consultancy, research and organisational development.