The Legal Update

What does it take to bring a public statue to life? As the centenary year of women’s suffrage draws to an end, we reflect on the years of campaigning, planning and cooperation that made Millicent Fawcett the UK’s first ever female statue in London’s Parliament Square.

With such a high profile public project, there were many stakeholders and organisations involved in making the statue a reality. Obelisk Support is proud to have a connection with the project, with our CEO Dana Denis Smith playing an instrumental part as the co-founder of the campaign. Other key players included leading campaigner Caroline Criado Perez, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Prime Minister Theresa May who both supported the campaign, Westminster Council, and Turner Prize winning artist Gillian Wearing, who created the statue.

At the intersection of the creative and practical planning was architect Tony Dyson, consultant at Donald Insall Associates, Chartered Architects and Historic Building Consultants. No stranger to the challenges involved in such a project, he was selected due to his specialist experience with public monuments, including the architectural settings for the statues of the non-violent political activists Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, along the west side of Parliament Square.

First, we want to know: what led Tony to his work on public memorials?

I suppose being brought up in a Worcestershire village and attending Worcester Cathedral King’s School were key in helping me develop an early understanding of the contribution the historic environment made to the overall character of a place and how that could promote a sense of belonging. Throughout my school days in the 1960s, however, much of historic Worcester was being destroyed to make way for new traffic circulation schemes and our headmaster David Annett encouraged a small group of us to attend local Civic Society protest meetings and add our voices to the objections being raised.

An interest in design led to my studying architecture at Canterbury but it was the opportunity to design in the context of historic buildings and environments that lead to my joining Donald Insall Associates. In 1992 my first memorial project involved the transformation of a former traffic island and motorcycle park at the junction of London’s Ebury Street with Pimlico Road, by refocusing the area as the architectural setting for Philip Jackson’s new bronze statue of The Young Mozart, who back in the 18th century, had written his first symphony in a house nearby. Now called Orange Square, the whole area has been regenerated, a local restaurant has extended its tables and chairs over the surrounding pavements and the statue is at the centre of a popular farmers’ market on Saturdays.

Photo by Garry Knight

The Process of Bringing Millicent Fawcett to Life

What considerations around location and design need to be taken when planning a public monument?

First and foremost, Westminster’s Guidance for the Erection of New Monuments Supplementary Planning Document states that ‘any proposal for a statue or monument must have a clear and well defined historical or conceptual relationship with its proposed location. As befits a world class city, Westminster requires only the best quality examples of new sculptural work for its streets and spaces. The City Council would normally expect commissions to be undertaken by established artists of international renown and to have arisen through a robust and transparent selection process.’

All the above requirements were taken into consideration in the process that resulted in the appointment of Turner prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing to create the bronze statue of Millicent Fawcett. It was Gillian Wearing OBE RA who depicted the non-violent Suffragist leader at the age at which she became President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, holding a banner that reads ‘Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere’ and with the images of 55 women and four men (who were part of the fight for women’s right to vote) around the statue plinth.

With regard to the choice of location for the memorial, non-violent Suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett was a perfect candidate for placing in line with the memorial statues of non-violent political activists Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, already existing along the west side of Parliament Square Gardens.

Previously, we had added the preferred scale for the bronze statue (similar to that of the existing Mandela and Gandhi bronze statues) to the limited competition brief. In designing the architectural setting for the new bronze statue of Millicent Fawcett, we followed a similar approach to that we had used for the Gandhi architectural setting (at a lower, more accessible level) but swept the Portland stone blocks either side of the statue back, so Gillian could have the plinth she wanted, as well as suggesting that the plinth should be of pink granite, a material already used elsewhere on Parliament Square.

Having worked on so many high-profile memorial projects, Tony says it was a real privilege to be part of the Millicent Fawcett project team. With so many different interest groups involved and needing to be consulted on the project, how did the process get off the ground?

Nigel Schofield from art manufactures MDM Props and I were brought in for our specific areas of expertise to collaborate with a mainly female driven project, led by the Culture Team at the Greater London Authority. It was of enormous benefit to our planning negotiations that, from the outset, the required processes were adhered to so meticulously. Also, professionally, it was particularly rewarding collaborating with artist Gillian Wearing over the design of the architectural setting.

What about the regulatory aspect, how do you keep relevant authorities informed when planning a public memorial?

Parliament Square Gardens is a Grade II Registered Garden within the Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square Conservation Area, adjacent to the World Heritage Site and within the Whitehall and St James’s Monuments Saturation Zone where applications for new statues and monuments will not be permitted unless there is an exceptionally good reason.

Once the ‘exceptionally good reason’ had been established and the project was shown to comply with the other recommendations set out in Westminster’s Guidance for the Erection of New Monuments Supplementary Planning Document, we moved to the pre-application stage. We talked informally with Westminster’s planning officers, so they could get an idea of the direction we were going in and comment on any difficulties they foresaw.

As the project progressed and the design that was likely to form the basis of the planning application emerged, preliminary meetings were held with those who were due to be consulted under the planning application (stakeholders from the buildings surrounding Parliament Square, local amenity groups, the Garden History Society, Historic England etc) and the draft proposals were then shared with them, so we would be aware of any particular issues they might have with the scheme and be able to take the opportunity to address those issues in the final planning application.

Did you come up against much resistance to the proposals?

Not really. There were hundreds of letters and emails of support and only three real objections – all of which were connected with the fact that only female artists and sculptors had been considered.

The History & Future of Public Memorials

Why do you think it is so important to have public memorials in our public spaces? What can they teach us about our society today?

I’ve already mentioned how a statue or monument can give identity to an area, but memorials can also help us see ourselves in the context of our own history, as well as relative to those we choose to memorialise, as times change. It’s interesting that the majority of press coverage of Millicent Fawcett agreed we need more memorials, not less, particularly as we have to make up for lost time in marking women’s contribution in history.

Attitudes to history and identity are defined through art as much as anything else and art and sculptural and architectural form can enhance our sense of place in history and create a sense of identity.

There is talk about pulling statues erected in the past down and replacing them with artworks or memorials that more accurately reflect society’s values today. This is not a new concept as in the 1960s there was a desire to replace Victorian statues with more up-to-date artworks.  I am relieved that nowadays there is more of a tendency to restore and maintain these references to our collective past, leaving only our attitude to them to have the opportunity to change, as we become more informed.

So you would be in disagreement with the calls for removal or replacement of more controversial historical figures?

Yes, I would be concerned for example, in the calls to tear down a statue of a colonialist like Cecil Rhodes in the vicinity of a university college he founded. You can’t erase history but you could of course take the opportunity to use the memorial setting to educate people as to just how non-PC Cecil Rhodes was. A couple of years ago, whilst in Virginia USA, I visited Thomas Jefferson’s Federal style mansion, Monticello. Jefferson had been the main drafter and writer of the American Declaration of Independence and in Washington DC I had seen the enormous Jefferson memorial. However, at Monticello I was impressed as to how the heritage tour of the property now focuses as much on Jefferson as slave owner, the slaves’ lives and the history of slavery in America, including the original British colonial plantations.

And what of the future of memorials, do you see technology playing a more important role?

Westminster, who are already using QR codes on their bridges and structures for monitoring purposes, are considering extending the scheme to include their memorials, for educational purposes and coordinating with websites with historical information and links to memorial walks etc.

Elsewhere, there are the ‘speaking statues’ in Dublin, which immediately set off a chain of information as you pass them. In some cases ‘virtual’ memorials may prove more effective in helping people interact with their history and be a viable alternative to memorials in the built environment. The hard landscaping of our cities changes and develops continually, so going forward there should be plenty of opportunities to enhance the identity of such spaces with memorials in interesting new forms.

With these fascinating insights showing how a campaign for representation, the artistic and creative design process, and planning regulation and procedure come together as one, it’s safe to say we will never look at a statue the same way again.

Tony Dyson (Dipl. Arch RIBA) specialises in the design of urban hard landscapes and the architectural settings of memorial sculptures in Conservation Areas. He advises and provides services in connection with:  finding appropriate sites, feasibility studies, design and project management, planning negotiations, programming, cost control and contract administration.

Women in Law

As October and Black History Month comes to an end, Debbie Tembo reflects on her career journey and the importance of identity and diversity in her work.

Life in Cape Town

I grew up in the beautiful Mother City of Cape Town in South Africa. I went to the University of Cape Town to study a BA in Cultural and Literary Studies with a major in Film and Media Studies. I became really interested in marketing and brands, which lead me to study a postgraduate diploma in marketing management for another year.

From a young age I have always been the child that would push boundaries, whether it be convincing my parents that I absolutely needed to go on a Gap Year straight after school (which had never been done in our family) or being the first black prefect at high school or being voted “most likely to succeed” in my postgrad class at university. Our family was the very first black family to move into a fairly well to do white suburb in Cape Town, circa 1993 (very shortly after the release of Nelson Mandela). My dad was the head of an international seafaring NGO, which meant that I was surrounded by people of such different and international backgrounds to me, and this has fuelled my subconscious distancing of homogenous groups from an early age. My parents, like most black folk are religious people, but what they imparted to me more than religion was a deep sense of spirituality and authenticity, and I carry that in my professional life. I would definitely forego business if it meant that I needed to act against my better judgement and compromise my integrity. Authenticity is such an important value to me and when you’re a black female professional, I think it matters more.

British American Tobacco – From Cape Town to London

I was recruited into British American Tobacco’s global graduate recruitment training programme where, after an 18 month program, I was successfully offered my first managerial role. Despite a heavily male-dominated industry and work environment, I did well in my roles and it was clear that I was on a fast track path within my career. I had great support from sponsors and mentors within the business and I benefited from a strong coaching culture in the business. Interestingly, my sponsors, mentors and coaches were all men who believed in shifting the balance of female representation in business and they gave their best in support to myself and the many more talented women in the business.

Debbie at a British American Tobacco innovation conference

I also studied for an Honours degree during this time in Communication Science. As a result, in 2006 I moved with my husband to London on secondment to work at the global HQ in a new area of marketing within the business that was focused on innovation and how to do things differently, more efficiently and essentially push the boundaries in marketing. Here, I was the youngest member in the global marketing team and again, I got a massive amount of support – you don’t succeed in such an environment without being good at what you do and having bosses that have your back at every turn. After a year of piloting an innovation process globally, it was time for the next challenge, the one that ultimately lead me to bow out of corporate.

Taking a Corporate Break

My next role involved me being based in London, but travelling across the Middle East and Africa region every 2 weeks in a team that was just not ready to embrace different ways of working and challenging the status quo. The travel became too much and ultimately, I became someone in this role that was so far away from my core and who I am as a person that I was deeply unhappy.

After exploring alternatives to this role and personally deciding that I wanted to stay in London, I decided to leave BAT and take some time out for me. I don’t think anyone could really wrap their heads around why I would leave a promising career because of some sort of identity crisis, but it felt like the right decision. In that time I had my first child and 2 years later, my second and I was privileged to spend 6.5 years of their young lives mothering them.

During those years, I dipped in and out of work for a marketing events company, a strategic brand innovation agency, as well as partnered on a few start up businesses inputting into their marketing strategies so I was active in work in a non-conventional way, which is more common these days.

Finding a Work-Life Balance

I wanted to return to work, but I knew that I wanted to come back on my own terms and I knew that this was going to be difficult until I saw an ad for an Obelisk Support Marketing Manager. I was immediately drawn to the ethos of the business and thought, I can do this. In short, I didn’t get the marketing job, but Dana felt that I could contribute to the business in a different area and here I am 1.5 years later and I think we’re doing well.

I work with a team of not only smart, but nice people and that makes such a difference to work. There is no hierarchy in our structure, everyone can contribute, try new ways of working and get on with their work in the best way that suits them, provided we are all focused on the same goals and have the will to succeed. I really enjoy that no two clients are the same, even if they’re in the same industry! Diversity is a big current in my life and has been throughout my career and I enjoy working with the different clients that we do and tailoring solutions to suit their individual needs within their respective ecosystems.

Working in the legal industry is and challenging and there is always something to learn everyday. I love that Obelisk exists to change the way of working in the industry and I’m privileged to be a part of shaping the future of legal in this way – it certainly makes for some surprising conversations, but I can honestly say that more clients are coming round to this way of working and embracing the change, which is fantastic and hugely rewarding and matters not only now, but for future generations of lawyers.

Reflecting on Work during Black History Month

Looking back on my career, I have always had roles that were focused on growing a business, a brand, a category, a service in a different way that challenges the status quo and forces a different perspective and I love that about work.

For me, Black History Month is a celebration of black excellence, of which there are many examples all around us of men and women who are doing amazing things in the world to change the status quo for the generations coming behind them. Our Obelisk CEO and Founder Dana Denis-Smith always says, “that you cannot understand the present without understanding your past” and I wholeheartedly agree. Black History Month is also an opportunity to pause in the busyness of life and take a moment to reflect on the many, what I like to call, warriors who stood up for us, who self-sacrificed for us to be where we are today.

I would simply not be here right now in this moment, if it wasn’t for the many South African freedom fighters who fought for the end of segregation, including my dad who left high school to boycott an inferior education and later went on to finish his high school as an adult and to complete a theology degree in a democratic society. Those hero men and women changed my life and made today’s opportunities in the workplace possible for me. Yes, we have a long way to go to equality, but there are enough opportunities for me to seize and make a success in business and I don’t see the fact that I am black and a woman as an excuse or a barrier to that success – it’s the fire inside that fuels my willpower to succeed!

Advice to Her Younger Self

This is the same advice that I give my daughters – if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. That’s your intuition, God, the universe guiding you, trust it always. Also, don’t justify yourself to anyone to make them feel better about the decisions that you make. Wait for them to ask you and then decide if it’s worth explaining. I think women spend way too much time trying to justify themselves and their decisions when they really shouldn’t have to!