Monday 20 March 2017

Lighting the Monument

It’s taken 3 years of fundraising with huge support from the public of Hull and beyond, and finally, on 23rd March, the Wilberforce monument will be lit.

This idea was conceived with the City of Culture year in mind to celebrate the city’s pride in William Wilberforce, a legacy which places the onus on us to remember the horrors of historic slavery and to acknowledge that there are many millions of people who suffer within modern day slavery still.

The lighting was approved of by Hull City Council, who embraced the idea and not only helped us in our endeavours to achieve this, but cast the net wider as the monument becomes part of Hull’s wider illuminations of its buildings in later months.

We are proud that the life of this campaign has seen us through the Modern Slavery bill and the greater realisation of our shared history in films such as 12 Years a Slave. Many thanks to everyone who has supported us.

So what about our timing?

Adam Hochschild wrote: "In 1787, approximately three quarters of the people on Earth lived under some form of enslavement, serfdom, debt bondage or indentured servitude. This was the year the popular movement against the British slave trade suddenly ignited. There were no slaves in Britain itself, but the vast majority of its people accepted slavery in the British West Indies as perfectly normal."

The acceptance of human suffering on such a staggering scale is as hard to believe then as it is now. The inconvenience of the unpalatable truth was acknowledged by Wilberforce himself during his great speech of 1789 in which he admonished our tendency towards collective amnesia or to "choose to look the other way".

It took a revolution in thinking to affect the abolition of the slave trade when it was the norm to oppress so many people. Just imagine battling against a ‘tradition’ of over 200 years standing. And, whilst some may argue that the economic climate of that time had much to do with it, it is beyond doubt that the strong will and determination of the many who fought before the first bill of 1791, towards the 1807 Abolition Act and beyond, had much to do with change.

So, the lighting of the Wilberforce monument will take place two days before the 210th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British colonies, to acknowledge all those who contributed to the anti-slavery movement.

In Britain, the powerhouse of the slave trade, we know the names of the many great men and women who fought this great evil. But there perhaps were others in the slave trading nations of Portugal, Brazil, Spain, France, Holland and the United States that we know less about. There were also the many slave rebels who are more readily overlooked and written out of the story (such as Tacky and Toussaint L’Ouverture, to name just two).

The lighting of the Wilberforce monument is a tribute to these overlooked heroes, as well as the notable names of the abolitionist movement, including: Thomas Clarkson, Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, Anthony Benezet, Phyllis Wheatley, Granville Sharp, John Wesley, Ignatius Sancho, James Ramsay, Olaudah Equiano, John Newton, Hannah More, Josiah Wedgewood, James Stephen, Zachary Macaulay, William Allen, the Sons of Africa, the Quakers, and all those who continued the struggle thereafter.

Let’s hope that their legacy proves to be inspirational to the politicians, activists and ordinary people who need to affect change for the oppressed today.

Image: A collage of the heroes of abolition, including Wilberforce's monument with the gilded scroll.

Saturday 31 December 2016

Goodbye to 2016

As 2016 rolls into 2017 with all the excitement this year of culture will bring, we would like to take this opportunity to thank you, our supporters, for staying interested and providing your encouragement as we move into the fourth year of the charity.

This year we have held hugely enjoyable fundraising events such as the Wilberforce quiz and the sponsored walk, which raised much-needed funds.

We also launched our sister project, the Heritage Lottery Funded African Stories in Hull and East Yorkshire. The project has quickly become very popular in terms of website visits and Facebook ( and Twitter ( interactions.

If you haven’t visited the African Stories project yet please take a look; it presents the stories of people of African descent in this region, taking the Wilberforce timeline of 1750 to 2007. We have already recovered many stories, much to the delight and surprise of a number of people who felt that Black history was most unlikely in this county.

We have also been delighted in the number of people who have been keen to share their own personal history in our Contemporary Voices oral histories, held in conjunction with the James Reckitt Library Trust. We look forward to an exhibition on 25th September 2017 at the Hull History Centre as part of the City of Culture celebrations and at Beverley Treasure House in Spring 2018.

It was apt that on 18th October, Anti-Slavery Day, Hull City Council gave us the good news that planning consent had been permitted for our application to gild the Scroll of Abolition held in William Wilberforce’s right hand on top of the monument. Within the week we had acted on this, and by 24th October, work had begun as we commissioned royal gilders Hare and Humphreys to undertake the work. This took 3 days were the scroll was double gilded in 23.5 carat gold leaf that will last throughout this century and into the next, seeing out the tercentenary of abolition! This continues to create a talking point as more people notice the glint of gold, raising the profile of the efforts of all those involved in the abolition movement and bringing prominence to the most important aspect of the story. (See the scroll gilding featured on Yorkshire-based Estuary TV here.)

Our efforts to draw greater awareness of the Wilberforce story and Hull’s involvement in it started with the idea of lighting the Wilberforce monument. We are continuing to speak to Hull City Council and the 2017 Culture team to make this happen at an appropriate point within the calendar of other events.

Supporters will know that it had been our intention that the monument would be light at night by the beginning of 2017 but that has not been possible. We hope to confirm a date soon and it is our intention that the lighting of the monument will be symbolic in its timing and in what it represents so watch this space.

Happy New Year!!

Image 1: December's test lighting of the Wilberforce monument by lighting artist Nayan Kulkani. Image 2: The Wilberforce monument with the gilded scroll.

Monday 31 October 2016

A Week in the Press...

Last week's scroll gilding saw the Fund mentioned heavily in the regional press. View scans of the main articles below.

Hull Daily Mail (click to enlarge):

Yorkshire Post (click to enlarge):

Tuesday 25 October 2016

William's Golden Scroll

On Anti-Slavery Day last week, we learnt that planning consent had been given for us to gild the Wilberforce scroll. So we engaged the royal gilders, Hare & Humphreys, to carry out the work and one week later it is done.

Thank you to all of you who have encouraged and contributed to the project. Thanks also to Jamie, Damien and Dave the Master Gilder.

Saturday 8 October 2016

The Dark Side of the Premier League Dream

Look around Europe’s elite football leagues in 2016 and you will find young African players at the core of many top sides. Take the Premier League for instance; whether it is Kenyan midfield rock Victor Wanyama at Tottenham; Ivorian defensive talent Eric Bailly at Manchester United, or Nigerian sensation Kelechi Iheanacho at Manchester City, African stars are lighting up the competition and serving as aspirational figures to the millions back home. Their status embodies the European dream – not only in the sense of sporting achievement, but also in the elevated profile and monumental wealth that such a position promises. Every year, thousands of young Africans hope to pursue this dream. However, swooping over the horizon are vultures that unscrupulously eye the lucrative rewards of exploiting these hopes for financial benefit.

Take 16-year-old Luc for example. Promised a trial in Europe by an agent in exchange for £6,500, his parents borrowed the money in his native Cameroon from loan sharks. They hoped that their risk would pay off thousands of times over through their son signing for a European club. But on arrival, the so-called ‘agent’ disappeared, abandoning Luc in the middle of Paris.

Maurice, a 15-year-old from the Ivory Coast, was promised a trial in Switzerland for £2,500. After his father borrowed the money, the trial’s location changed to Thailand and after a few inconclusive trials, he too was abandoned.

Or how about Ben, a 16-year-old Cameroonian whose family raided their life savings for €3,000 to pay for a promised trial at Paris Saint-Germain? On arrival in Paris, his ‘agent’ made his excuses and abandoned him in a hotel in the French capital.

These stories are repeated thousands of times over. Deceitful agent offers glimpse of European dream to young footballer. Agent takes money from family of child and arranges travel. Child left thousands of miles from home, penniless, homeless, and often forced to turn to crime to survive. Meanwhile, the family, who often borrowed the money from local loan sharks, are left with crippling debts that they are unable to pay off.

Sometimes abandonment is only the start of the struggle. Al Bangura played in the Premier League for Watford after being promised a trial by an agent in Guinea. That wasn’t the agent’s real intention however; Al was initially brought into the UK to work in a male prostitution ring. He was lucky and escaped – many are not so fortunate.

In 2009, the United Nations reported that the riches of modern-day football had caused it to spawn its own modern-day slave trade. The lucrative nature of trafficking is increasing its popularity, even attracting those who previously would have focused on diamond and timber smuggling. As long as young boys have dreams of following in the footsteps of their football heroes, there are dreams for the vultures to feed from. But how has this been allowed to happen, and what is being done about it?

If we look at the governing body of world football, FIFA, for answers, we come up short. Their own integrity has been infamously challenged in recent years, and they deregulated the agent industry in April 2015 (link via The Conversation) making it easier for fake agents to slip through the net. Their legislation has been criticised as unfit for purpose by Ed Hawkins, author of The Lost Boys: Inside Football's Slave Trade. FIFA’s Article 19 states that clubs cannot sign players under the age of 18, but Hawkins criticises its caveats, stating, “it's not worth the paper it's written on, it's just for window dressing by FIFA, they have given get out clause for clubs to do what they like.”

But FIFA cannot be criticised alone. Migration expert James Esson says “this [human trafficking] is a political hot potato for Fifa... in their defence it is a crime that goes beyond their control.” Concerted pressure is necessary from governments in the territories where these crimes are being committed. Immigration departments need to be vigilant when assessing African children travelling to Europe, and there has been a lack of focus in this area. "For governments and FAs in the region, the trafficking of young players is not a priority... the victims become lost individuals, who nobody wants to do anything about," said Jake Marsh of the International Centre for Sport Security.

The only charity set up to combat the growing issue of human trafficking in football is Foot Solidaire. An organisation set up by Jean-Claude Mbvoumin (a former Cameroon international), Foot Solidaire has helped many young Africans caught in the trafficking trap, including some of the boys mentioned above. They have protested that the scale of trafficking is beyond them and their limited funding, and that more needs to be done by governing bodies.

When Hawkins’ research is applied to Foot Solidaire however, the problem becomes more complex. In research for The Lost Boys, Hawkins was contacted by 20-year-old Japanese footballer and associate of Foot Solidaire, Shinji, who had made payments to an agent for trials that never materialised. It transpired that Mbvoumin was the agent in question, thus implicating the only anti-football trafficking charity in the very practices that it was fighting against.

Furthermore, doubts over the authenticity of victims’ stories makes helping them more difficult. In 2001, Belgian senator Jean-Marie Dedecker brought a case of 442 Nigerians working as football slaves in Belgium in 2001 but failed to yield a single prosecution. However, as a result of the case, the state announced that such trafficking victims could receive benefits. This led to a marked increase in trafficking claims from African boys in Belgium. Solange Cluydts, head of leading anti-human trafficking charity Payoke, called the claims (including those from Foot Solidaire) “bullshit”.

So what is the truth? Well, whilst some of the stories may be exaggerated, the research of Hawkins and others illustrates that the issue of human trafficking through football is clearly a major, growing issue with a rising number of victims. Hawkins notes the story of Jay-Jay, a 17-year-old from Guinea, who was trafficked into slavery and abused by the very “scout” who he paid to help him. Such stories, and those of families back in Africa indebted to loan sharks, are becoming more and more common. Further co-operation between law enforcement, governing bodies, football associations, clubs, agents and FIFPro (the players’ union) is needed. And, as The Conversation suggests, education programmes and awareness campaigns are needed across Africa to protect children and young people from the perils of duplicitous agents with persuasive tales of the European Promised Land.

With the likes of Wanyama and Bailly so integral to the footballing elite, surely it is in the best interests of clubs to combat this issue from a sporting perspective as well as a humanitarian one. Parties across society must work together to ensure that more African footballers ply their trade on the pitch rather than in desperate servitude.

Credits and Further Reading
  • Ed Hawkins’ research on Foot Solidaire and the implications of the 2001 Dedecker case from Hawkins’ article for The Independent.
  • Suggestion of education programmes in Africa from McGee’s article for The Conversation.
  • Article written by Thomas Burrows.

Saturday 3 September 2016

The News is Out...

We have applied for planning permission to gild the scroll that is in William Wilberforce’s right hand where he stands atop the monument. The scroll represents the Act of Parliament abolishing slavery in the British colonies. We hope that by picking it out in gold leaf, this important document will be better seen from below especially when lit.

Consultation has also taken place with Hull College, on whose land the monument stands as we need approval for the necessary access to perform the work.

We continue to work with the Public Realm and City of Culture team together with the well-known lighting artist Nayan Kulkarni to realise the permanent illumination of the monument. The monument, when lit, will be able to be seen by the public from Queens Gardens in the hours of darkness - currently it is not visible at night to anyone standing in the central or western areas of the Gardens.

The story has been covered in Hull Daily Mail (25th August) and Yorkshire Post (30th August) (see images below).

'Golden Highlight for Culture City's Statue' in the Yorkshire Post (click to enlarge):

'Golden Revamp for Statue in Time for 2017' in the Hull Daily Mail (click to enlarge):

Tuesday 12 July 2016

Linking the Past to the Present: July 2016 Update

‘Walking with Wilberforce’ Trail Competition

This month, we were asked to advise on a local schools competition. School children of primary and secondary school age were asked to re-design the tiles used for the ‘Walking with Wilberforce’ Trail in the old quarter of Hull city centre. This involved members of the Fund working with Artlink and Hull City Council. The full competition brief can be seen here.

We suggested the theme of Adinkra; traditional symbols originating from the Akan people of Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast). The Adinkra symbols represent popular proverbs and maxims. They also record historical events and are used on cloth, pottery, sculpture and architecture.

Using some aspect of the Adinkra symbol theme is a means of displaying powerful messages about slavery, freedom, emancipation and the human spirit, all of which can be associated with the close bond between the city and people of Hull and the African nations.

A full set of Adinkra symbols can be accessed at The examples express powerful concepts such as understanding and agreement, peace and harmony, co-operation and interdependence, love, safety and security, and learning from the past.

Researcher-Interpreter Wanted

We are looking to appoint a Researcher-Interpreter for the African Stories in Yorkshire project. For full details see here

Africans in Yorkshire: New Stories Archives

Take a look at the growing Stories Archives with recent additions about Agnes Foster, Ira Aldridge, RAF Hunmanby Moor and Thomas Biggs.  The latest news can be found on the African Stories in Hull & East Yorkshire blog: We are calling on you for any stories, information and recollections that you might want to share.

If you haven’t already, like our new Facebook page for the Africans in Yorkshire project!

The photograph is taken in June 1944 of the airmen with the congregation at Reighton Chapel (reprinted in the Filey & Hunmanby Mercury, 25 June, 1994).