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Labour’s Sophia James Responds To Aspire Over The Central Club Site

 

Tonight, a petition on the Central Club and Black History Mural was presented to full
Council. I wanted to take this opportunity to respond to many of the claims made
over the summer about the Council’s intentions for the site.

It’s time to have some clarity on this issue and to categorically say that this Labour-
led council cares about the black community in Reading and the mural.

You can watch the debate on the Council Webcast, my contribution is at 47 mins 43
seconds in.

You can also read the full speech below.
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“Thank you Madam Mayor

 

I would like to start my contribution tonight by welcoming the activity of people in our town. It is incredibly positive to see Reading people stand up for something that they believe in. As a local resident, a councillor and a black woman, I, too, am passionate and concerned with the education of black history, and the celebration of black culture.

 

Let’s start with the mural. That Black History Mural signifies our heroes and our aspirations. It recognises our challenges and reflects the diversity of this town. And whilst inaccurate claims have been made about this Council’s intentions for it… let me be absolutely clear about something – we are not only committed to protecting it but we realise that symbols of multiculturalism and strength are needed now more than ever.

 

October marks Black History Month and we need to have an honest conversation about the state of our nation. Tensions around race and racism are high. We live in a country, where black people are 3x more likely to be tasered by police and in extreme cases are lost to us in police custody. We face barriers to employment across a range of fields and when we are employed? We are disproportionately found in insecure and low paid occupations. And, as evidenced by the benches opposite, we are woefully under-represented in political leadership positions. All of this, against a backdrop of race hate crimes on the rise since Brexit.

 

It serves the interests of some to frame this debate as the Council vs the People but the reality is that this Council is working hard to defend people, yes black people too, from the harsh realities of Tory austerity. Me personally? Over the years I have organised Black History Month events, trained People of Colour to be leaders in union movements and stood my ground against fascists at direct threat of violence. Believe me when I say, I understand the importance of campaigning to defend black people and black culture.

 

When it comes to the issue of the Central Club building, whilst the building is up for sale, the mural is absolutely not. We are, and have always been, committed to protecting it. Two years ago I sat on a group with Councillor Page led by the RVA with a number of representatives from community groups. We spoke at length about solving the Central Club issue but no solution was found. This group was the predecessor to the third sector bidding process.

 

As a Labour Group we will continue to work with African and Caribbean people in this town support the needs of this community.

 

But let’s talk about the undue distress that has been caused. The irresponsible stirring up of racial tensions and the summer of inaccuracies over that 10 million pounds.

 

When you use words like ‘eradicate’ and scapegoat or suggest that this Council does not value the Black people. When you shout down representatives in public meetings and cherry pick the bits of the bid to suit your own interests you cause incalculable harm to the community you purport to care about.

 

And on a weekly basis the story around Aspire’s 10 million changes. Is it a fully funded bid? A mortgage? An investment? A finance for development? A bird? A plane? I eagerly await the time when superman gets pulled out the hat and frankly, black people in this town deserve better.

 

We don’t need this but what we do need is for members of the community to work with us to facilitate these conversations and foster the environment required to create a genuinely community-led vision for black people in Reading.

 

Thank you.”

 

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