Kew Gardens boss makes U-turn on plan to decolonise displays after backlash

Kew Gardens: Staff outline their work on tourist attraction

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The Royal Botanical Gardens promised to “decolonise our collections”, as part of a 10-year “manifesto for change” published last year. But backlash to the manifesto has since caused the gardens to make amendments, instead promising to “re-examine” the collections. The organisation’s director, Richard Deverell claimed that a large part of the backlash had been misplaced.

He said that critics had been “asserting that we are doing things that we are simply not doing”.

Kew has decided against removing any of its collection and will instead choose to “broaden the stories we tell”.

Mr Deverell insisted that Kew’s new direction is an “exemplar” of the government’s policy to make sure that historic monuments are “retained and explained”.

Kew previously faced allegations that it may be breaching the National Heritage Act 1983 when it pledged to reword display boards.

Think-tank Policy Exchange accused the west-London garden of engaging in “forays into non-scientific, and indeed politically charged, activities.”

Speaking about the initial backlash to the manifesto, Mr Deverell said: “At first I found it amusing.

“And, subsequently, it was actually quite annoying, because it was causing a lot of distraction.

“It’s why we dropped that word from our manifesto.

“It was causing heat, but not light.”

He added: “What you will see, I hope, is a broader and actually, I think, more interesting and engaging set of stories that links our historical roots to contemporary issues.”

“We are not removing anything we are seeking to broaden the stories we tell.”

Kew will be introducing new interpretation signs, in order to correct an attitude which Mr Deverall said: “too often implied that white British men from Kew did it all on their own”.

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But speaking to the Telegraph, the Royal Botanical Gardens’ director also said that he wouldn’t “apologise” for slavery, as it is “simply not Kew’s territory”.

Speaking about the role of slavery in the production of Sugar, he said: “[Sugar] has had, I would say, a material impact on the lives of many people living in Britain today, indirectly [and] I genuinely believe it’d be utterly remiss of us not to tell that story.

He added: “We are not going to apologise or make great statements about the role of slavery or the legacy of slavery.

“That’s simply not Kew’s territory.”

Mr Deverell also insisted that the new changes would not be “trashing history”.

He said: “We’re not apologising. We’re not trashing history.

“We’re not censoring. We’re not removing anything.”

He added: “There will not be a hectoring tone.

“You’re not going to read anything that is critical of Kew’s, or British, history.”

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