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More time to give views on whether University buildings with links to the slave trade should be renamed

Press release issued: 18 January 2023

The University of Bristol has extended its listening exercise, seeking views on whether seven buildings whose names are linked in different ways to the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans should be renamed.

The online consultation, which has already had more than 3,500 responses, will now close on Friday 27 January.

In order to get as many views as possible, a series of events has been organised for local people, students and staff to learn more about what we’re doing, to ask questions and to give their opinions.

Two drop-in sessions will take place on Monday 23 January [from 1pm] at St Pauls Learning Centre, Grosvenor Road, BS2 8XJ and Wednesday 25 January [9am-11.30am] on campus at the Beckford Bar on the ground floor of Senate House. Pre-booking is not required for either of these sessions.

Also on 25 January [3pm-4pm] a panel event will take place at the Arts Hub, 7 Woodland Road at which people are invited to join in-person or online. For more information about this and to book a free ticket please click this link.

The consultation follows feedback from some staff and students who feel that building names and the University logo should be changed to better reflect a modern-day institution in a diverse and forward-thinking city, as well as those who believe that the complexity of our past could best be recognised through greater in-depth understanding and explanations.

One of the key arguments put forward was that, for example, money donated by Henry Overton Wills III to help found the University in 1909 had its early origins in importing and selling tobacco produced on plantations of the US South, where enslaved labour made up the majority of the workforce until 1865. In their view, a building named for Wills failed to respect the lives of those harmed by slavery.  As a result, the University made a commitment to fully interrogate its history to help it better understand its past and use that knowledge to shape its future.

In January 2020, Professor Olivette Otele was appointed as the University’s first Professor of the History of Slavery, undertaking a two-year research project on the University of Bristol’s, and the wider city’s involvement, in the transatlantic slave trade.

The report, which includes detail from documents, financial papers and accounts dating back to the 1860s confirms that the University’s founding was financially supported and made possible by individuals whose families had directly or indirectly profited from the products of the slave trade.

The seven University buildings which are named after these families and organisations, and will form the basis of the consultation, are as follows:

  • Wills Memorial Building
  • Fry Building
  • Merchant Venturers Building
  • HH Wills Physics Laboratories
  • Goldney Hall
  • Wills Hall
  • Dame Monica Wills Chapel

In addition to building names, the University has already made a commitment to reviewing its crest and logo which features the symbols of Colston, Wills and Fry.

Professor Evelyn Welch, Vice-Chancellor and President, said: “This consultation will help us to understand what people across our communities and the wider city think about the names of these buildings. No decisions have yet been made and we continue to welcome all feedback. Thank you to everyone who has already given their opinions so far. If you have a view or would like to find out more, please read the report and consultation which can be found here or attend one of the events next week.”

Once the consultation has concluded, a report will summarise the findings which will be carefully considered before any recommendations are made.

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