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Purpose and scope

The purpose of this guidance is to help local authorities, town and community councils, and other public bodies reach well-informed decisions about existing and future public commemorations. This will help them play their part in making Wales an anti-racist nation, and celebrate individuals from all parts of our society who have made an outstanding contribution to Welsh life. The background to this guidance is explained in the Annex.

'Public commemoration in Wales' sets out to help public bodies:

  • better understand the complex issues around public commemoration
  • establish a framework for inclusive decision-making
  • establish objectives for public commemoration
  • establish criteria to guide decisions for both existing and new commemorations
  • take action to ensure public commemoration is fit for present and future generations.

The focus is on permanent and deliberate public commemorations of people or events in the form of statues and other sculptures, plaques, murals and paintings in public buildings, and commemorative names for streets and public facilities. However, the principles and ideas set out may be helpful when considering other types of commemoration, including war memorials and semi-private commemorations with a public impact such as church monuments or private property, as well as commemorations such as performances, events, art installations, festivals and interpretive displays. 

The guidance builds on the findings of the Audit of Commemoration in Wales, and has a strong focus on the legacies of the slave trade and the British empire. Wales did not stand apart from slavery and colonial exploitation, both of which were embedded in the nation’s economy and society, and these issues are rightly the focus here. 

Decolonising public space is an important aspect of the commitment to an anti-racist Wales. This does not mean censoring or erasure of the historical record, but it does mean that historical injustice is acknowledged, reputations are open to debate and narratives that devalue human life do not go unchallenged. Decolonisation seeks to prevent the perpetuation of racist colonial myths about white superiority, but does not mean removing all evidence of the imperial past. 

The emphasis of this guidance is on anti-racism, but the approach to decision-making that it sets out is relevant when addressing other forms of discrimination, and in all areas where balance in commemoration may be an issue. One of these is Wales’s own experience of colonisation, which is the subject of one of the case-studies. 

This guidance sets out general principles for decision-making, but makes no specific recommendations on what decisions to make or action to take. Nor does it provide advice on all aspects of commemoration; for example, planning policies, the management of structures listed for their special architectural or historic interest, fundraising, health and safety, maintenance or public liability.

'Public commemoration in Wales' is divided into two parts. The first part will help public bodies to understand the issues and impact of public commemorations. The second part sets out four steps that public bodies should take when making decisions about new or existing commemorations. 

  1. Establish a framework for inclusive decision-making
  2. Set objectives for public commemoration
  3. Establish criteria for decision-making
  4. Take action

Case studies on contested commemorations help demonstrate the issues and impact of public commemorations and how these can be ameliorated through sensitive and collective decision-making. Many of the case studies draw on experience outside Wales, recognising common themes that underlie very different histories and identities. 

The guidance has benefitted from the views expressed at a series of facilitated workshops that brought together a broad spectrum of stakeholders (see Annex). The quotations that appear throughout the text are from participants in these workshops.

A public consultation on an earlier draft of this guidance was held between October 2022 and February 2023, and a summary of responses was published in September 2023. 


Workshop participant:

Stories are never finished.

The commemoration of people and events in the public realm, especially as statues, sculptures, plaques and the naming of streets and buildings, is familiar to us all. Most of these commemorations add character to our surroundings and can help us understand aspects of our past. Although the great majority are uncontroversial, some commemorations are contentious. The virtue or relevance of some people or events has always been open to challenge, either when they were first commemorated or later as views have changed. Commemoration has always been a live issue.

It is not surprising that commemorations from the past occasionally have negative connotations. For example, the ‘winning’ sides in political or military conflicts may have sought to celebrate their heroes knowing that others may have feared or hated them. While voluntary groups and public subscriptions have sometimes led to commemorations of a more diverse range of people, more often there has been a bias towards commemorating only the powerful or wealthy. However, in recent times there has been greater recognition that public commemoration should be more wide-ranging. It should not insult or hurt fellow citizens and it should not represent contentious subjects in ways that divide society. For instance, the continuing celebration of figures known for their brutality, racism or links with the slave trade may be felt by present generations to continue their oppression and ignore the injustice of how those commemorated acquired their wealth or fame. In the words of the American novelist, William Faulkner: ‘The past is never dead. It's not even past.’ (William Faulkner, 'Requiem for a Nun', 1951)

Wales has a legacy of hundreds of commemorations in various forms. Although these commemorations may have historic or aesthetic interest in themselves, they may not represent the preferences or values of the present. New commemorations, however, can redress this balance and enrich the public realm by celebrating events and people who can stand as positive role models for everyone in Wales.