Cassland Road Gardens. Image: Google

Hackney Council yesterday revealed that Cassland Road Gardens, named after 18th-century slave trader John Cass, is to get a new moniker chosen by local residents.

The action is part of the Town Hall’s review into the renaming of landmarks and public spaces, announced in June in the wake of global anti-racism protests and the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol.

The review is being led by a steering group consisting of local historians, community leaders, young people and residents.

Following initial feedback from the group, the renaming of Cassland Road Gardens is to be the first step, with the new name yet to be decided.

Moves are already being made independently by other local buildings and spaces to find new names that best reflect the borough’s anti-racism stance.

The Museum of the Home, formerly the Geffrye, is soon expected to announce the result of its public consultation on the future of a statue of Robert Geffrye, another merchant involved in the slave trade, which sits above its entrance.

Earlier this month, Sir John Cass’s Foundation announced its decision to change its name and those of its halls of residence.

Commenting on Cassland Road Gardens, Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville said: “I’m grateful to the steering group for their time and commitment to this vital work. In a short space of time they’ve really helped us to focus our thoughts.

“This isn’t an easy process, and should not be rushed. The decisions we make now will affect people’s experiences of our public spaces for generations to come, so we want to make sure that we involve the community in meaningful discussions.”

Toyin Agbetu, community educator for Pan-African human rights-centred organisation Ligali and a member of the steering group, said: “I have found working with the renaming taskforce a genuine process committed to delivering meaningful change.

“Listening and learning with a multigenerational, multiethnic selection of talented people, all committed to delivering solutions instead of empty fancy talk has given me hope that once this process is finished, Hackney will have a working democratic process for sharing anti-racist values in symbolic and systematic form. That’s progress.

“The immoral celebration of the Cassland name in Hackney is an issue that has stood for almost 200 years. It is time we are unapologetic about ensuring our borough’s public realm celebrates values of peace, equal rights and resistance to injustice, not toxic history that glorifies historic violence.”

At last night’s full council meeting, Conservative councillor Harvey Odze struck a very different tone, saying: “It’s an absolute disgrace that we’re taking away the name of a huge benefactor for this borough.

“There is nobody in this world who is perfect. Yes, [Cass] was involved in the slave trade. Many others have been involved in many things and we laud them for what they did that is good.

“We don’t always need to look at the bad. He was a huge benefactor to this borough and to the country, and to take away his name from Cassland Road is a huge disgrace.”

The borough’s equalities boss Cllr Carole Williams responded: “The Sir John Cass Foundation has committed to change the name of the foundation. The Cass Business School will change their name. The Cass Education Department at the University of East London will change their name, but Cllr Odze wants us to keep the name of Cassland Road.”

Further details about the outcome of the Town Hall’s review will be announced in the coming weeks, as will opportunities for residents and organisations to have their say.

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