Tea and sugar are colonial spoils, say castle officials after race row

tea and sugar are colonial spoils, say castle officials after race row

The gatehouse of Nottingham castle – enviromantic

Tea and sugar are the “spoils of empire”, curators have said, as part of work to decolonise an historic English castle.

Nottingham Castle, now a museum and art gallery, has undertaken work to probe colonial connections in its history after the attraction was embroiled in a long-running race row over its alleged treatment of staff.

The “English staples of tea and sugar” are the “spoils of empire”, according to a new information sign erected as part of this decolonising work, which states that such imperial spoils “are everywhere”.

The sign for the benefit of visitors to the castle – most famous for its legendary links to Robin Hood – states that being aware of imperial connections is “imperative” in order to “combat issues such as racism, white nationalism, and xenophobia”.

A quote by Marxist historian Stuart Hall is included on the sign, which states: “There is no understanding Englishness without understanding its imperial and colonial dimensions.”

The sign explains that the decolonisation project at Nottingham Castle aims to present objects “with a non-Eurocentric bias”, adding: “There was a peaceful way in which colonisers took distant lands and those indigenous to it.”

The signage further states that decolonisation work is not intended to “shame those who benefit from the fruits of empire” but to “highlight hidden histories and narratives that museums often choose to remain neutral or silent about”.

The drive to decolonise Nottingham Castle comes amid continued criticism of the attraction’s leadership over the  handling of an alleged racist incident at the site in 2021.

In an open letter some staff stated this “led to an environment of fear, distrust and extremely low morale among staff of all backgrounds, but particularly those of colour”, additionally raising concerns about  “toxic culture” at the castle. A formal complaint was lodged and a petition was launched calling for the board to step down.

As staff continued to criticise the board of trusses at the castle over its lack of diversity and handling of the alleged 2021 incident, the Nottingham Castle sought to recruit a new curator to unearth “hidden histories” in its collection in relation to “current discourse around representation, decolonisation and historical colonial practices within museums”.

The advertisement for the post also prioritised the ability “To identify and invite guest curators from diverse backgrounds to bring new perspectives to our collections through a series of events and interventions”.

The castle was undergoing a £30 million refurbishment backed by the National Lottery heritage Fund and Arts Council England, and new decolonising signage was introduced following the publicly funded overhaul of the site, which reopened in the summer of 2021.

It is understood that some staff are concerned that the decolonisation work does not directly address their own concerns with the running of the castle.

Nottingham Castle has been investigated twice in relation to safeguarding concerns following the alleged racist incident in 2021, when a curator claimed her grandchildren were the victim of a hate incident at the hands of members of the public when visiting, and that her concerns were not dealt with properly by the castle.

A Charity Commission probe concluded in January 2022 with the regulator stating that it “did not find evidence of wrongdoing by Nottingham Castle Trust trustees”.

A spokeswoman for the Nottingham Castle Trust said at the time: “The board has thanked the Charity Commission and has accepted its advice and guidance.

“Detail on the improvements that have already been made, as well as changes that are planned, will be announced by the Trust’s leadership team in the coming days.”

A second investigation by HR group The People Factor did find failings.

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