Celebrating the development of the UK’s first national black heritage centre, the Black Cultural Archives site dedication ceremony took place in Windrush Square this morning.
Makeda Coaston and Maureen Roberts welcomed the two hundred-strong crowd of press, friends and supporters to the ceremony, which also included local authors, artists and musicians and no other than the Electric Avenue legend Eddy Grant.
“Today is a significant marker in the long journey of our community” said Makeda Coaston, a cultural strategist, writer and researcher who has worked with voluntary organisations, the public sector, government and the arts and heritage sectors for more than 25 years, before welcoming Paul Reid, Director of the BCA and Brixton resident Paul Reid to the stage.
Paul Reid, who has worked as Brixton Town Centre Manager and has a wealth of experience in community development, engagement and empowerment joked that even though Raleigh Hall needs “more than a touch of polyfiller” the building is now on the home strait, due to open in 2014. ” We don’t have to look overseas for the accomplishments of the black community, we already have them here, and the BCA is going to make people realise that. [People] are going to realise that black people have always been here.”
Paul has hopes that the BCA will have a wide reaching effect on the heritage sector nationally: “The BCA is about diversifying the heritage sector across the country.” His joy that the BCA will be housed in the heart of Brixton on Windrush Square was apparent as he remarked “What an address! There’s no way the postman’s going to forget that one.”
Councillor Lorna Campbell remarked that she is delighted that the BCA will be opening here in Brixton on three levels “as a Lambeth councillor, as a local resident and as a member of the black community” and hopes it will be a useful resource for future generations.
Colin Jackson CBE, world record-holding sprinter and hurdler, BBC TV presenter and patron of the BCA, spoke to the audience of the importance of holding on to your personal heritage and realising the impact it has on who you are: “My grandfather made the decision to come over from Jamaica to Wales. That decision has shaped who I am today.”
Colin made a somewhat personal donation to the archives, surprising Paul Reid with the last pair of athletics spikes he competed in, complete with the Welsh red dragon on the heel. Paul gratefully accepted this -perhaps the beginning of a sports themed archive collection?- saying that he “should really be wearing white gloves” to touch them.
Of the delays to building work which the BCA has experienced, Dawn Hill, chair of the governing board said “we have learnt many lessons and are now experts in overcoming difficulties…This is a massive undertaking for a small organisation.”
“I’m obviously really excited that this amazing facility will be open in a year. As an author it will be great to have somewhere to do all the research for my work” poet Malika Booker said of the BCA before reading three of her recent poems.
Also spotted at the event was local author, the Brixton Bard himself, Alex Wheatle. Speaking to the Brixton Blog he said “I can’t wait for the building to open, it’s sending tingles down my spine. So much devotion has gone into [the BCA].” Asked what he thinks the impact of the cultural centre will be for Brixton Alex said “I don’t think it will have just a local impact, I can see coach loads of school children coming from all over the country.”