Karin Smyth MP responds to announcement of We Are Bristol History Commission

Bristol has ongoing issues with inequality which need addressing. Much of the recent focus is on the impact of the transatlantic slave trade, the power that wealthy white men held in the 17th and 18th centuries and continue to hold.

We are living with the impact of historic slavery. You see it, not only in the statues, monuments and places named after slave traders, but in the ongoing influence held by the Merchant Venturers – a society with roots in the transatlantic slave trade and one that continues to be dominated by wealthy white men.

Slavery has been part of Bristol for centuries – with three slaves documented in Bedminster in the Domesday Book in the 11th century. A thousand years later it is still present, with recent investigations and legal action relating to modern day slavery in this part of the city.

I welcome the creation of the We Are Bristol History Commission. It is the start of a very important discussion for the city which can, and should, help shape the future of Bristol.

Any change must take place in consultation with the community – it’s not something one person or group can impose. I’m pleased that the commission recognises this, stating that it will ‘work with citizens and community groups to develop these themes and ensure that everyone in the city can share their views and build a fuller picture of how the city has grown and developed over the years.’

It is right that, while the history of slavery is a focus of this work, it also includes ‘the full scope of events that have impacted the city’ – from the struggles of workers for pay and working conditions, the Chartists and suffragettes campaigning for emancipation and housing, migration and modern gentrification – issues which continue to affect Bristol South to this day.

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees acknowledged, as part of the announcement of the commission, that ‘everyone experiences the results of our past differently’, so it is vital we listen to a broad range of voices as we work out the next steps for the city. I agree and hope that you will share your thoughts as part of this process.

More details here.