In today’s increasingly polarised society, it’s good to be reminded how a community can come together to challenge those who seek to undermine its values. I was reminded of this at the weekend when I spoke at the launch of a new mural commemorating the Battle of Lewisham.
That Saturday in 1977, a community came together in a time of crisis: local people of different ages and backgrounds, including anti-racists, anti-fascists and community leaders, united to show that the far-right National Front was not welcome in Lewisham.
The new public artwork – now in place outside Goldsmiths Library – is the result of more than two years of work between Goldsmiths, Lewisham Council and hundreds of local people, whose designs formed the basis of this striking collaborative project.
42 years on from the events of the Battle of Lewisham, playing an active part in our local community seems more important than ever. Universities have a central part to play in this, and many institutions across the country are thinking about how best to live up to their civic role and create a positive impact in their local area.
Goldsmiths, with its commitment to social justice, has always championed community engagement as a key part of our responsibilities. I’m pleased to say that since I joined the College in the summer I’ve been able to discover just some of the work we are doing with local partners to make Lewisham better for everyone.
Last year saw the opening of Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, a public art gallery bringing world-class art to Lewisham. The gallery is free and open to all, and has already welcomed nearly 28,000 visitors.
Joined-up work with Lewisham Council and the Mayor of London will see work on a new Enterprise Hub begin next year, transforming a parade of mostly vacant shops on New Cross Road into a space where local businesses as well as Goldsmiths students and graduates can access business advice and flexible workspaces.
And our work with local young people is also hugely important. Our Widening Participation team works with hundreds of school pupils, introducing higher education and the creative arts to young people who may not have considered it as a pathway.
Community collaboration is not just a nice-to-have – for a modern university, embedding ourselves in our local community, partnering with local businesses, institutions and community organisations and actively listening to the needs of local people is essential for our future. I’m truly excited about where collaboration with our Lewisham neighbours will take us in the coming years.
I also feel proud that we now have a mural on the side of our building that so visually marks the importance of learning from history, and reminds us that hate can be defeated by working together. I think it points to a way forward for all of us.