We take on New Walk at pace past the shishy offices, university buildings and comfortable hotel offers, with barely a glance to The Clothier, a marble statue made by John Atkin to commemorate the legacy of Leicester’s clothing industry in 2010. According to the Friends of New Walk website,
“From 1970 onwards the industry was in decline, but in the last few years there have been indications of a slow rebirth. Manufacturing is growing slowly in the hands of new investors and locally-based retailers, such as Next, Bodens and Joules, have shown that textiles are still very much a Leicester industry.”
Nothing showed us that as clearly as the garment industry scandal which emerged in Leicester during the Covid-19 lockdowns. In July 2020, the city’s dirty “open secret”of underpaid workers in Leicester’s garment industry was dragged out of its silence.
The retail giant Boohoo were implicated in contracting with suppliers who ‘employed’ workers in unsafe conditions, forcing them to come to work even when ill with coronavirus.
Boohoo found itself at the centre of a media storm when came to light as some of their suppliers were accused of modern slavery. But they were by no means the exception: the authorities’ efforts to stamp out bad practice in many employers have consistently failed over many years.
As you walk on past De Montford Hall to see the work of Natasha Muluswela, another potent kick of ‘history’ makes itself felt: the hall takes its name from the late Simon de Montfort, after whom Leicester’s De Montfort University was also named. The university acknowledges the potency of this naming on its website:
While Simon de Montfort is remembered chiefly for his achievements as an architect of and campaigner for a representative parliament – achievements which originally inspired DMU to take his name – it is argued, too, that he bears responsibility for the persecution of Jewish people because in 1231 Montfort issued a charter expelling Leicester’s Jewish community in an overtly anti-Semitic act.
Fortunately, resistance isn’t futile but is alive and kicking not just through the DMU Students Union but also through the work of the Fashion-workers Advice Bureau Leicester (FAB-L) based in Highfields which is fighting back against modern day employment slavery practices. It’s where we head to next as the afternoon’s temperature continues to drop and the autumn leaf slush makes the journey discovery a little more treacherous, step by step.
This walk is not just about visiting 10 Globe Sculptures on an art trail: you’re reminded every step of the way of the necessity of The World Reimagined programme. The history of enslaved Africans isn’t just someone else’s history, it’s our history. And it’s not just our his-story or her-story: it’s our here-and-now-story.
The Mighty Creatives staff team took part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on 5th October 2022. Check out the campaign here and donate your hard-earned disposable income here.
Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcome and appreciated.