Lobby government over slavery reparations, says Bristol councillor

At a Bristol Council meeting that took place yesterday (7 July), activist and Bristol City Green Councillor Cleo Lake implored current Mayor Marvin Rees to lobby the UK Government to set up a commission to acknowledge, apologise and instigate reparations for the country’s role in the transatlantic trade of enslaved Africans.

An image of Cleo Lake
An image of Cleo Lake

Cleo Lake, Bristol City Green Councillor. 

Lidia Creech

Green Bristol City Councillor Cleo Lake has urged Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees to lobby the UK Government to implement reparations for the UK’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.

During a recent meeting (7 July) of Bristol City Council, Lake, submitted a motion to the meeting to demand that the council responds to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and demanded holistic reparatory justice. 

Lake then asked the Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees to respond to her key demands directly, calling for the Mayor to lobby the UK Government to set up “an All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry for Truth and Reparatory Justice to acknowledge, apologise and instigate reparations for the Transatlantic Traffic in Enslaved Africans”. 

 Explaining her question to the Mayor, Lake said: “This isn’t just about monetary compensation, it goes much wider than that and is a movement that has existed for centuries, ever since the first transgressions of our humanity as African heritage people. The first stop is an acknowledgement by the British state that what happened was wrong and a formal apology should follow – this is an essential step to repair as so far our experiences of historic and ongoing wrongs have been denied. We need an active commitment to prevent further injustice.

 “I know this will be a controversial subject for some but it’s a debate we need to have and I very much hope the Mayor will take this matter to the government.” 

 In her demands, Lake is backed by various members of Bristol-based lobby groups, such as the Afrikan Connexions Consortium and the Stop the Maangamizi campaign. 

 Amid the current global racial justice movement sparked by George Floyd’s murder last month, Lake added her voice to calls for the UK Government to take action, including calls to update the school curriculum to acknowledge the UK’s role in colonial history. 

 As well as lobbying the government to set up a commission, Lake also questioned the Mayor as to what strategy Bristol City Council has “to protect and support long-standing black-led cultural institutions of the city that continue to be severely underfunded and under-resourced”. Among these important cultural institutions are the Malcolm X Centre, the Kuumba Centre and the Rastafari Cultural Centre, which, asLake noted, have all been underfunded for years, while the Council poured £10 million into the restoration of the former Colston Hall. 

 Lake said: “The Malcolm X Centre, Kuumba Centre, Docklands, Rastafari Cultural Centre have been there for me my whole life and throughout the lives of my children, my community and others. They have served us in a way that other institutions in the city cannot. They have held deep and meaningful cultural activities over generations, offered solace, entertainment, education and have a first-hand understanding of our experiences in a way that is genuine and necessary. 

 “They are spaces where many of us can be ourselves, they are safe spaces and yet they are also spaces which are outward facing serving a wide demographic. But it feels like for decades that these spaces haven’t mattered, that our way of being isn't good enough, something that I know other community centres have also battled with across the city for years. 

 “I hope to see a commitment from the Mayor that these institutions will be supported and protected. I do note the recent securing of a 25-year lease for the Malcolm X Centre from the Council, which was a positive step forward. 

 “If the Mayor believes the council cannot afford to financially support any of these centres, then I’d suggest that he could use his influence with the One City partners or if agreed by these centres, the Merchant Venturers to secure funding. Everything is possible if only the will is present. I would like to acknowledge all the volunteers and Black South West Network for their support and efforts to improve the situation for our black led institutions.”