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Celebrating our heritage appropriately

One of Lewisham’s great strengths as a borough is our diversity, and we want to ensure we celebrate and commemorate our culture and heritage in the most appropriate way.

In common with so many British city areas, features such as statues and plaques in our public spaces largely reflect a bygone era. In some cases these underline the uncomfortable truth that our nation owes a large part of its wealth to its role in the slave trade.

We are establishing a local forum, Lewisham Culture and Diversity Advisory Forum, to advise us on how the borough can use culture to amplify black and other diverse voices, and celebrate how Lewisham is strengthened by its diversity.

The forum will be chaired by our Cabinet Member for Culture and will include:

  • five local councillors to represent the views of Lewisham communities and residents
  • eight cultural professionals to bring expertise on heritage and cultural best practice in relation to culture and diversity in Lewisham.

The chair will work to ensure the forum is broadly representative of Lewisham’s communities. Any gaps in representation will be addressed through targeted engagement.

While work is underway to set up the forum, we are inviting residents to send us comments and suggestions through this website.

The work of the forum will in turn feed into the London-wide review to be carried out by the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm. Read more about the commission set up by the Mayor of London.

Local historic landmarks

Steps are being taken to address historic landmarks in the borough that commemorate figures with links to colonial slavery. For example:

Battle of Lewisham mural

In October 2019, Goldsmith's, University of London unveiled a mural on its campus in New Cross which commemorates the Battle of Lewisham. The Battle of Lewisham took place on 13 August 1977 when approximately 500 National Front marchers were met by 4,000 counter-protesters as they attempted to march from New Cross to Lewisham. Read more about the Battle of Lewisham mural on the Goldsmiths website.

Slavery in Lewisham timeline

While some historic figures connected with the borough of Lewisham benefitted from the colonial slave trade, others took action to stop it. In 1814, for instance, 40 residents of Lee signed a petition supporting the Friends of the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The Local History and Archives Centre, Lewisham, offers a range of insights on local beneficiaries and opponents of the slave trade. For more information go to their Slavery in Lewisham timeline – 1800s.

More diverse recognition emerging

More recently, recognition of significant contributions made by black and minority ethnic people has begun to emerge in our borough. For instance:

  • In Telegraph Hill Lower Park sits a monument to anti-slavery campaigner Olaudah Equiano, created in 2008 by children from Edmund Waller Primary School. A slave who was able to buy his own freedom, Equiano settled in London and became a prominent abolitionist. Read more about Equiano’s life.
  • Race equality campaigner Asquith Gibbes MBE is commemorated with a plaque at Lewisham Police Station. He received an MBE in 2009 in recognition of 30 years of service to the police, schools and the community on race relations, and his plaque was unveiled in 2019. Read more about Asquith's achievements..
  • Members of the community who have received the Freedom of the Borough of Lewisham include Wozzy Brewster, Les Eytle, Doreen Lawrence, Sybil Phoenix and Erica Pienaar. Find out more about our Freedom of the Borough recipients.

Enriched local democracy

Local democracy and policy development have been greatly enhanced by black and minority ethnic councillors in recent decades. These include:

  • Janet Daby MP – a councillor for Whitefoot ward for eight years (2010-2018), with roles including the Cabinet member for Community Safety. She was elected to Parliament in 2018.
  • Gurbakhsh Garcha - a councillor in Crofton Park for 20 years (1986-2006), holding roles including Deputy Mayor, Mayor and Cabinet member for Social Inclusion.
  • Dr Mee Ling Ng OBE – represented Evelyn ward for 16 years (1986-2002), with roles including Deputy Leader and Chair of the Social Services Committee and Economic Development Committee.
  • Stephen Padmore – a councillor for Marlowe/New Cross ward for 28 years (1986-2014), holding roles including Chair of the Equalities Committee and a Planning Committee.
  • Les Eytle – a councillor for Blythe Hill/Whitefoot for 24 years (1982-2006). He was Lewisham’s first black mayor and was Council Chair from 2002 to 2006.
  • Jarman Parmar – represented Drake and Crofton Park, with roles including Chair of Safer and Stronger Communities Select Committee, and of Lewisham Anti-Racist Action Group.
  • Crada Onuegbu - a councillor for Evelyn ward for 18 years (1998-2016), with responsibilities including Cabinet portfolios for Community Safety and Youth.
  • Ashtaq Arain –represented Grove Park for 12 years (1986-1998). Lewisham’s first Muslim Councillor, his roles included Chair of Leisure Services, Race Relations, Direct Labour Organization and Central Services Committees.
  • David Michael MBE - represented Evelyn ward for four years (2014 – 2018), with roles including Chair of the Safer Stronger Communities Select Committee and of Lewisham Community Police Consultative Group.

Our first black councillor was Ollie Nurse and our first Muslim woman councillor was Mahmuda Kabir.

The current discussion about the most appropriate way to celebrate and commemorate our culture and heritage is an important opportunity. If you send us your viewswe will share them with the local forum we are establishing.

To quote Decolonising the Archive, a cultural activist group with roots in Lewisham:

"When we face the past we understand the present. In understanding the present, we shape our future."

Learn more about the work of Decolonising the Archive.


Ancestry is offering free online access until the end of September 2020 to Lewisham residents who hold a library card. Trace your family history with Ancestry.


Lewisham residents who hold a library card can access Findmypast online until the end of September. For access, please email libraries@lewisham.gov.uk or local.studies@lewisham.gov.uk for a username and password.