Harewood featured in at ITV documentary – ‘Has George Floyd Changed Britain’ – as charitable trust launches Open History programme continuing to explore its history and combat racism.
A year on since George Floyd was murdered, Sir Trevor McDonald and Charlene White examined how the UK has reacted to his death, its effect on the Black Lives Matter movement and ongoing conversations about racism in a one-hour documentary aired on ITV this evening.
David Lascelles, Earl of Harewood, spoke of what he, the Countess of Harewood and Harewood House Trust have done to address the estate’s heritage, commenting:
‘I think it’s a period of history that as a nation, we’ve not come to terms with properly. I think that, until we do, a lot of the divisions, a lot of the conflicts, can’t be resolved until we understand our history properly.’
The Trust and the Lascelles family have been at the forefront of acknowledging the estate’s colonial past for over 25 years. Being transparent about colonial history and ensuring the Trust hosts much-needed, and sometimes difficult conversations is vital to calling out racism, and to forging new connections with visitors and the communities of the cities and countryside around.
In the past, Harewood has commissioned artists of diverse heritage from Sonia Boyce to Rommi Smith, and openly engaged in discussions concerning its roots in the Lascelles family’s links to the Atlantic Slave Trade which culminated in a year-long programme of events to mark the Bicentenary of the Abolition of Slavery in 2007, notably featuring Geraldine Connor’s Carnival Messiah.
The Trust continues this commitment to promoting and celebrating equality, diversity and inclusion, and to combating racism. It is central to Harewood’s programming aims, to working with its staff and volunteers, and working with the communities in and around Leeds and West Yorkshire.
Harewood’s Open History programme engages audiences with the urgent issues of our time, engendering empathy and understanding of these issues in order to celebrate diversity, whilst bringing Harewood’s colonial past into greater focus.
Launching on 12 June, Heritage Corner brings its unique brand of insightful Black History Walks to Harewood following the success of regular events in Leeds City Centre. In a walking story – A Storm at Harewood, stretched across the House and Grounds – Joe Williams and Vanessa Mudd explore inspiring black history and hidden connections to the splendours of Harewood in an imaginative, fun and family-friendly way through the guise of Pablo Fanque and his wife. Fanque, Britain’s first recorded circus owner of African heritage, brought his circus to the Harewood area in 1847. His circus pantomime was based on a plantation narrative, Obi, or Three Fingered Jack, which unusually places an African rebellion leader as hero and was very popular as a play in London’s West End for over two decades.
Joe Williams, Director of Heritage Corner, comments:
‘We aim to enhance positive engagement and discourse on race and social cohesion from a shared heritage perspective. Excluding shame and blame by intent, the aim is to inform and engender pride and hope for all visitors.’
Harewood have teamed up with Leeds-based DSRG (the Diasporian Stories Research Group) to bring to life the story of Harewood’s first known black member of staff, George ‘Bertie’ Robinson, who travelled with the 5th Earl and Countess from St Vincent to Leeds aged 13 to work for the Lascelles family. The display, Bertie Robinson: The Footman from St Vincent, shown on the State Floor from 17 May, is the first in an annual series which will celebrate and share the histories of people of African descent with Yorkshire connections throughout history. Bertie lived at Harewood from 1893–1922. Letters, diaries and photographs chart his life, as well as exploring the Lascelles’ links to the West Indies in the early 20th century, the impact of colonialism on St Vincent, and attitudes in Britain towards people of colour at that time.
On 26 June an exhibition by glassblower Chris Day will open in Harewood’s All Saints’ Church as part of a brand new Craft Spotlight series. The series provides a platform for emerging makers of diverse ethnicity. Inaugural artist Chris Day creates work to open conversations around Black history including the Transatlantic Slave Trade and under-representation of makers of diverse heritage in the craft sector.
Hannah Obee, Harewood Director of Collections, Programme and Learning, comments:
‘A report published by Crafts Council prior to our 2019 Harewood Biennial, Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters, stated that 96% of professional, full-time crafts people identified as White British. We had already decided this lack of diversity would be a key subject for debate – Craft Spotlight now acts as a consistent response to this lack of racial inequality in Craft.’
As part of the British Museum’s Where We Are programme, Harewood continues its long-standing relationship with the Geraldine Connor Foundation to work on a joint project with young people who define themselves as from the African diaspora. ‘Harewood is my House’ will see a group of ten young people define what they consider arts and culture, identify barriers to engagement and create a response that addresses a local need identified by them.
As a first step in Harewood’s action plan to increase diversity and inclusion, the Trust is prioritising local children of colour experiencing obstacles (financial and societal) to accessing Harewood’s collections and the site. This begins with reaching out to schools through free online teaching resources beginning with Bertie Robinson: The Footman from St Vincent.
The Trust also works with partners Bradford Prevent to develop free resources for use in Bradford Schools, funded by the Home Office. By sharing Harewood’s involvement in the slave trade, wider conversations around Black Lives Matter can be opened with students and upskill teachers to address diverging viewpoints through discussion.
Looking to the future, the Trust’s commitments as part of its continuing discourse around Harewood’s heritage and its responsibility to combat racism is something which it approaches through its programming in order to build engagement, empathy and understanding.
A performance project with Leeds Playhouse is currently in development, future artists to feature in Craft Spotlight are in discussion and Harewood is looking ahead to the next subject in its series uncovering prolific Yorkshire figures of African descent, amongst other conversations.
Harewood is continuing to review its Learning Strategy and Plan to make explicit its commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. Consultation with local young people, teachers and the wider community will shape our Learning offer to fit their needs so our collections are open to all.
The Trust also believes that empowering its staff to feel confident in having conversations about racism is paramount in combating racism. Every member of the team has undertaken unconscious bias training and is invited to regular all staff talks with guest speakers on such topics, and three company-wide working streams – People, Place and Programme – focus on how equality, diversity and inclusion are central to Harewood’s values.
Jane Marriott, Trust Director comments:
‘It is vital that we continue to call out racism and discrimination, that we use Harewood as a safe place in which to have open conversations and to bring communities together. Harewood can provide the knowledge and understanding of difficult histories, including our own, and it will lift-up marginalised voices, promoting equality, diversity and inclusion.
‘Our commitment to being open and transparent about Harewood’s past has led to the creation of our Open History programme in 2021. This programme will engage our audiences with the urgent issues of our time in order to engender empathy and understanding so that we can truly celebrate the diversity of our society today.’