The Toppling of Colston: One Year On - has anything changed?

Credit: ITV

On Sunday 7 June 2020, the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down in Bristol during a Black Lives Matter protest.

The toppling came after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer, triggering protests around the world.

After the bronze statue was torn down, people knelt on its neck before it was rolled through The Centre and thrown into the harbour.

It was a moment which encapsulated the growing anti-racism movement across the UK.

But one year on, what impact has it really had on Bristol?

Latoya Adlam and Tyrone McCalla helped to organise some of the Black Lives Matter protests last year.

They remember watching the events unfold - but told ITV News West Country there are still many problems to overcome.

Tyrone said: "I've had situations where I've been just parked in my car on my phone, safely parked, and I've had my window tapped and asked 'What are you doing in the area? Where are you going? Who are you going to see?'

"When I have the conversation with them, I don't think it's something that they have with other people."

Latoya told ITV News West Country the toppling of the statue sparked questions from the people around her.

"Even with some of my close friends, they were asking me questions and I just didn't know they were unaware of my reality or of black people's reality," she said.

"I didn't know they were unaware because it's something I felt like had been spoken about over and over again."

The Colston statue's plinth remains empty Credit: PA.

While Downing Street called the statue's removal a "criminal act", saying it was "not how we do things in the UK", many others questioned why it had not been removed sooner.

An online petition to remove the statue was launched in 2017 but Colston's effigy was to remain for years to come. In 2019, plans for an additional plaque explaining the slave trader's history were scrapped due to a row over its wording.

But when the statue was toppled, Bristol was quick to re-examine its connection with the slave trader.

Colston Tower is now Beacon Tower. Colston Hall has since become the Bristol Beacon. Even The Colston Arms is searching for a new name, instead temporarily branded Ye Olde Pubby McDrunkface.

In May this year, the University of Bristol launched a project to look at how the wealth created from slavery was spent and examine how its legacy is impacting people today.

Elswhere Colston Girls School launched a consultation and eventually opted to change its name to Montpelier High School, while Colston's School has also launched a consultation over the future of its name.

  • Colston Girls School students on name change

Symbolism vs real change

But how much of this is symbolic? Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees warns real change will take much longer.

He said: "Pulling down a statue in Bristol was a massively symbolic act, I think it's inappropriate for a city to have a statue to a slaver up in the middle of the city.

"But that in and of itself will not bring about change. Systemic discrimination, systemic inequalities along race, class, gender lines are very hard things to overturn.

"Symbolic acts are important, they can be important staging posts and points of message, but they are not in and of itself change."

What is next for the statue itself?

The 17th century bronze statue is currently on display at M Shed in Bristol. Credit: PA

The statue is now the centrepiece of a temporary exhibition at M Shed which opened in Bristol last week.

The 'Colston statue: What next?' exhibition aims to start a conversation about the city's history and involvement with the slave trade and is asking the people of Bristol for their views.

But the 'Save Our Statues' campaign group says it has block booked tickets to prevent the public from viewing the statue - they say they are unhappy it has not been replaced on its Colston Avenue plinth.

Anyone who cannot make the exhibit in person can view a digital version and fill in an online survey.

Professor Tim Cole, Chair of the We Are Bristol History Commission and Professor of Social History at the University of Bristol, said: “This is an opportunity for everyone to have your say on how we move forward together.

"The display is not a comprehensive exhibition about Colston or transatlantic slavery in Bristol, but it is intended to be a departure point for continuing conversations about our shared history.’’