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Crowdfunding drive for Sylvia Pankhurst statue

Final push in the campaign to create a ‘socialist suffragette’ memorial at Clerkenwell Green

19 May, 2017 — By Angela Cobbinah

As well as campaigning for women’s suffrage, Sylvia Pankhurst spoke out on the wider struggle for people’s rights. PHOTO: NATIONAL ARCHIVE

A CAMPAIGN to raise money for a memorial to the “socialist suffragette” Sylvia Pankhurst is being urgently stepped up as the centenary of the landmark 1918 law that granted some women the vote draws closer.

Next year also sees the completion of Islington Council’s planned refurbishment of historic Clerkenwell Green, where the 2.5-metre statue is to be located.

“We need to raise £70,000 as quickly as possible and we are appealing for donations from individuals and organisations, no matter how small,” said Megan Dobney, of the Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee, which has just launched a crowdfunding drive.

“The enthusiasm already shown by people has been extraordinary and I am very optimistic that we will reach our goal.”

The committee was set up almost 15 years ago in response to Sylvia Pankhurst’s absence from the existing suffragette memorial in Westminster, which only represents her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel.

After much lobbying, campaigners finally managed to get planning permission for a statue at a small public park next to the Houses of Parliament, only for the scheme to be blocked by the Lords.

“This was a political rather than a practical decision,” said Ms Dobney. “Sylvia was not only interested in women’s suffrage but in the wider struggle for people’s rights, both at home and abroad, that’s why we call her the socialist suffragette. She fell out with her mother and sister, who became more establishment-friendly, and ended up being almost written out of history.”

The 2.5-metre Sylvia Pankhurst statue, designed by Ian Walters

Forced to look elsewhere, campaigners decided that Clerkenwell Green would be a more suitable location because of its radical associations with the Labour movement, from Chartists’ gatherings to May Day rallies.

With the help of Chris Smith, the former MP for Islington South and Finsbury, the Town Hall gave its support to the scheme, which has now become an integral part of its plans to restore the green to its former glory.

Cast in bronze and designed by Ian Walters, whose celebrated sculpture of Nelson Mandela stands on London’s South Bank, the statue will occupy a newly such as the Marx Memorial Library and Old Sessions House.

These plans are scheduled for completion in 2018. Next year also marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave limited franchise to women and paved the way towards equal suffrage 10 years later.

The race to meet the deadline was recently boosted by a £10,000 grant from the City of London Corporation, while campaigners hope to benefit from the £5million fund just unveiled by the government to support projects marking the 1918 act.

It is also hoped a meeting with the Ethiopian government next month will bear fruit.

“As an anti-fascist and anti-imperialist, Sylvia publicly campaigned against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, even setting up her own newspaper to do so,” explained Ms Dobney.

Meanwhile, events such as the forthcoming Annual Sylvia Pankurst Memorial Lecture, to be delivered by Sylvia’s great-granddaughter, Helen Pankhurst, will help spread the word about the campaign.

“The statue represents a wonderful opportunity to restore Sylvia to her rightful place in history at last,” added Ms Dobney. “It has been a long haul but the end is in sight.”

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