New Cross Fire memorial plaque saying "These trees were planted in the memory of the 13 children who died in the New Cross fire on the 18th Jan 1981".

New Cross Fire memorial to be unveiled on anniversary of Black People’s Day of Action

A refurbished memorial space dedicated to the victims of the New Cross Fire is being unveiled tomorrow, the Black People’s Day of Action.

The event, starting at 12pm in Hackney Downs Park will have guest speakers reflecting on the tragic events of the fire, the Black People’s Day of Action and activism that led to the installation of the Hackney Downs New Cross Fire Tribute Avenue.

Mayor of Hackney Caroline Woodley will also be at the event.

The project to improve memorial benches and signage was spearheaded by the Older Generation Younger Generation (OGYG) organisation with the support of Hackney Council and the New Cross Fire Foundation (NCFF) among others.

The late Sir Charles Collins, father of one of the victims, Steve Collins, and founder of the OGYG, planted 14 trees in Hackney Downs Park 27 years ago in dedication to those who died, making it the UK’s first permanent tribute site to the victims of the fire.

In an OGYG press release, Sir Collins’ son and Chairman of the OGYG and NCFF Gary Collins said: “Our father would be so proud that his vision to keep those who died in our memories has been realised.”

In an interview with the North East Londoner, Collins said the Tribute Avenue holds both peace as a place of remembrance, and tragedy as a memorial to the victims of the fire.

He also reflected on the importance of educating people on what the memorial is and why it is there.

Collins said: “If you haven’t got history then you don’t know where you’re going.

“If I don’t know what happened then, how am I meant to know what’s going to happen ahead of me.”

The New Cross Fire took place in the early hours of Sunday January 18 1981 and killed 13 young black people, with the suicide of a survivor two years later bringing the total number of victims to 14.

The people killed were between the ages of just 14 and 22.

Saturday marks the 43-year anniversary of the Black People’s Day of Action, the monumental nationwide protest in response to the lack of press coverage and police indifference towards the New Cross Fires.

In the decades since, no definitive answer has been given as to what caused the devastating fire.

Many believe it was a racist attack as Lewisham was, at the time, a Nationalist Front stronghold, and violent racially charged attacks were commonplace.

London artist and writer Jay Bernard, 36, started their critically acclaimed poetry collection Surge while in residence at the George Padmore Institute – an archive and information centre dedicated to Black British and Black European culture and history.

When discussing the unveiling, Bernard pointed out the simple act of refurbishing the memorial site illustrates the effort needed to maintain the memory of the 14 young people lost that dreadful January morning, and how it remains an important act to this day.

Bernard said: “When I think about the New Cross Fire I don’t just think about the fire and the uprising.

“I don’t think of it in historical terms, I think of it in current terms as well, and I think about ongoing struggles that stem from that same business.”

The OGYG and NCFF are looking to continue their efforts to rejuvenate the London spaces dedicated to the victims of the New Cross Fire at multiple sites, including in Dalston Square, and the official memorial site in Lewisham, all of which were first established by Sir Collins.

Featured image credit: Alan Denney

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