We help Bristol artist step up Seven Saints project

22 March 2019

We have helped Bristol-based artist Michele Curtis step up her efforts to complete the Seven Saints of St Paul’s® murals project in time for the city’s carnival in July.

The outdoor exhibition features seven individuals of the Windrush generation who made significant political and social strides for change.

In 2018, Michele painted The Honourable Owen Henry and; Dolores Campbell in 2018, who was a foster carer to more than 30 children and a lifelong campaigner for racial equality.

Now Michele faces a race against time to finish off the remaining five humble heroes who, along with Henry and Campbell, put on the first carnival in 1968 to celebrate the unity that helped to end the “colour bar” on the city’s buses, which prevented West Indian immigrants joining bus crews despite labour shortages.

The boycott campaign – which encouraged passengers to stop using the bus service while it denied work to black people – enjoyed support across the city and paved the way for anti-discrimination laws.

Michele is putting the finishing touches to her latest mural thanks to a grant from us.

Carmen Beckford MBE is being immortalised by being emblazoned on the side of a LiveWest house in St. Nicholas Street, St Paul’s.

Born in St Thomas, Jamaica, in 1928, Beckford left for the UK to train as a nurse at Ashford Hospital in Kent at the age of 17. She moved to Bristol in 1965 to work as a midwife in Downend and soon became active in the local community.

She was instrumental in setting up St Paul’s Carnival – known as St Paul’s Festival at the start – in 1968.

Beckford, a lover of music and dance, was put in charge of entertainment at the St Paul’s carnival which grew to host more than 100,000 people.

Her work with the community didn’t go unnoticed and she was encouraged by the Jamaican High Commissioner to apply for the role of Bristol’s first Race Relations officer at Bristol City Council, a role held between 1978 and 1986 which included working to improve race relations in the city.

Throughout her life, she also sat on the Commonwealth Coordinated Committee alongside bus boycott campaigner Paul Stephenson and established the West Indian Dance Team.

Michele commented: “With the launch of The Seven Saints of St Pauls® Art & Heritage Trail, Iconic Black Bristolians will transition to Iconic Black Britons.

“Iconic Black Britons aims to fill the gap of multicultural representation within British society. Each of our projects will form a legacy that will transform the visual and cultural landscape of the UK.

“Iconic Black Britons’ mission is to increase engagement in the arts particularly for marginalised groups. They create inclusive pathways for young people to respect and engage with the arts and their communities whilst being inspired by tangible role models. This isn’t just Black history; this is Britain’s history! 

“Painting the third mural would not have been possible without the help of LiveWest. It’s been great to work with a housing association which invests heavily in the area in helping to improve neighbourhoods and bring communities together.”

Michele plans to complete the other four murals by the beginning of May.

In partnership with BBC Bristol and Cactus App, she has developed a mobile app which will map out a guided tour around the murals, pointing out areas of interest in St Paul’s and historical links to the African Caribbean community. It will be launched on June 24.

Vicky James, our Head of Resident & Community Investment, said: “It’s been an absolute privilege and pleasure to help Michele with this fantastic project.

“We were more than happy to give Michele some funding and provide one of our houses to paint her latest mural on.

“LiveWest is not just a housing provider, we invest in communities and celebrate diversity. The Seven Saints project recognises these historical giants whose legacies will live on.”