Disabled activists and their allies have forced a council into a significant climbdown over its “discriminatory” plans for a memorial to victims of the Peterloo massacre.
Manchester City Council (MCC) said this week that it had asked artist Jeremy Deller to examine how the memorial he designed can now be made “fully accessible”.
The council-funded memorial was set to be completely inaccessible to many disabled people (pictured), even though Deller wanted it to be used as a platform for speakers and demonstrators, mirroring those who spoke during the protest in 1819 that led to the massacre*.
The council had previously told Disability News Service (DNS) that it was unlikely that any “fundamental changes” would be made to the memorial, which is due to be unveiled to the public on 16 August, the 200th anniversary of the massacre.
But there has now been an apparent climbdown following weeks of protests led by disabled activists.
The council’s announcement follows a meeting between city councillors Luthfur Rahman (executive member for skills, culture and leisure) and Tracey Rawlins (lead member for disabled people), and representatives of disabled people’s groups.
Mark Todd, a disabled access expert who started a Facebook page to protest at the design of the memorial – and has called it “a monument to discrimination” – said he was “really pleased” at the council’s apparent change of approach.
He said that the “breadth and determination” of the campaign and the willingness to work with the council appeared to have paid off.
And he said the campaign had built an “amazing coalition” that included disabled people, artists, celebrities, and citizens of Manchester “who all want a Peterloo Memorial that is accessible to everyone”.
Among those who have supported the campaign are the musician and activist Billy Bragg, who said: “Surely something that symbolises the struggle for universal rights should be accessible to all.”
Disabled comedian and activist Francesca Martinez said it was “extraordinary” that the memorial design had not been inclusive, while there has also been criticism from disabled actor-campaigners Cherylee Houston and Ali Briggs.
Briggs said: “We all want a memorial, yes that’s true. We just don’t want one like this, that we can’t be proud of.”
Todd said this week that he was “cautiously optimistic” following the council’s statement, but until there was a “fitting and accessible Peterloo Memorial”, the campaign and a weekly vigil near the site would continue.
He said: “We are not ready to put away our placards just yet.”
Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), which has played a key role in the protests, also welcomed the announcement.
But it warned that the council had not yet met its three demands – to stop work on the memorial while it was still low enough to include a ramp; to ensure the memorial was accessible; and to make sure there was no repeat of the council’s failure with future projects – and pointed out that building work on the inaccessible memorial was now nearly finished.
Campaigners will meet next week with the council, Deller and the architect working on the project, and will then decide whether to review their demands.
A GMCDP spokesperson said: “MCC’s decision to build the memorial to its full height and then explore access solutions afterwards, limits considerably what can be done to make it a platform everyone can use.
“We do not know what MCC have in mind, if anything, and we acknowledge that a perfect solution may not be arrived at immediately.
“What is needed most at this stage is the commitment to find a genuine accessible long-term solution, properly considered, fully consulted on and backed up with some teeth and a budget.”
The council has faced weeks of anger from disabled people and allies that a memorial designed to remember those who marched for liberty and equality in the 19th century should apparently have been “designed and built with discrimination and inequality at its heart”.
Now the council has said that it regrets that the design of the memorial “did not give enough consideration to access issues”.
Cllr Rahman said: “Manchester City Council has a long and proud record around access issues, something which disabled access campaigners have acknowledged.
“However, we recognise that the interpretation of the brief for the Peterloo Memorial, with an imaginative design involving a more interactive element than originally envisaged for a public artwork, did not give enough consideration to access issues and we regret this.
“We recently met with representatives of disabled people’s groups to further discuss this issue and we have asked the artist and architect to look at how the monument in its current form can be modified to make it fully accessible.
“We will share more details about where we are up to and the proposed way forward as soon as we are in a position to do so.
“We are listening and doing all we can to resolve this satisfactorily.”
Deller told DNS last night (Wednesday) that he was optimistic that a solution could be found to make the memorial accessible.
*On 16 August 1819, paramilitary and military forces attacked more than 60,000 peaceful, pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters in Manchester, which led to 18 deaths and an estimated 700 serious injuries, in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre
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