Protest marks year of turmoil at Nottingham Castle - Museums Association

Protest marks year of turmoil at Nottingham Castle

Dispute over trust’s handling of race incident continues 12 months on
The incident took place at Nottingham Castle in August 2021
The incident took place at Nottingham Castle in August 2021

A protest was held at Nottingham Castle on 10 August over the organisation’s handling of an incident that took place on its grounds a year ago.

The demonstration was organised by freelance curator and poet Panya Banjoko and the campaign group Stand Up to Racism. It comes 12 months after an incident in which Banjoko, who previously curated an exhibition at the castle, says her two young grandchildren were racially abused by another child at the site’s adventure playground. She has criticised Nottingham Castle Trust for its response to the incident and its aftermath.

A police investigation concluded that no criminal offence had been committed due to the age of the child involved, but recorded the event as a hate incident.

An independent investigation into the incident in March 2022 found that there was a general lack of awareness and training in safeguarding policy at Nottingham Castle Trust prior to the incident, although it commended the actions of staff to put the children involved first. The report advised that “lessons learned from this incident are translated into an appropriate action plan”.

The protestors said they aimed to highlight “the failure of Nottingham Castle Trust to act promptly and with diplomacy in following the recommendations of the report which ruled in Panya's favour”.

The group added that “trustees have failed to make themselves available for a meeting 12 months on and have shown no urgency in following the recommendations set out in March 2022”. 

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The trust has disputed this version of events. In a statement, trustees said: “Nottingham Castle fully supports the public right to peaceful protest which is why we provided space for the protest to take place.

“The cause of the protest stems from an incident that took place in the castle play area 12 months ago involving some of our visitors and some very young children where a subsequent complaint of racism was made.

“This incident was investigated by the police and subject to an independent investigation where the castle and our staff were found not to be at fault and there was no suggestion that any member of the trust team had acted in a racist way. Panya declined the independent investigator’s invitation to participate in it. The trust apologised to Panya and readily agreed to improve its staff training and safeguarding processes.

“Nottingham Castle Trust is firm in its stance against any form of discrimination, racism, hate or abuse. Panya has been invited to meet the board on several occasions but has, to-date, been unwilling or unable to take-up this opportunity.”

Museums Journal understands that Banjoko is seeking to meet trustees at a neutral venue.

A collective that says it represents some of the trust’s current and former staff has criticised the trust for being slow to put adequate training in place following the incident.

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The collective said: “The castle’s strategy for a year has been to avoid taking meaningful action, make people too scared to speak up, push out those who try and replace with those who will comply. 

“We’ve been hoping for training but on its own will not improve things if this is the mindset of senior leadership and trustees. It will merely be used as a tick box exercise and a way to silence staff and stakeholders and create a false illusion of safety for staff and visitors.” 

The trust has said it is working through each of the report's recommendations and developing a detailed policy in response.

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