University of Bristol pledges £10 million to address racial inequalities following consultation into building names

View of Bristol including Wills Memorial Building from the air
City of Bristol

This is an open letter from our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Evelyn Welch, addressing the outcomes of the renaming consultation and following actions.

Over the past three years, we have been examining the University of Bristol’s history, and the potential links of our founders and their wealth to the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved African people.

Following an initial report from a group of historians and other colleagues, the ‘Legacies of Slavery’ report, this summer we concluded a consultation with staff, students, alumni and our wider community about how to represent our history including whether it was appropriate to have major buildings named after these individuals. Nearly 4,000 people responded to our survey and hundreds more attended in-person sessions. Along with members of our Board of Trustees and our Senior team, I personally attended several powerful and impactful events that were led by local Bristol communities of African and Caribbean descent.

Throughout, whether in writing or during these meetings, I heard many distressing stories from those who had experienced racism and racist behaviours while engaging with, working at, or studying at the University of Bristol. What began as a consultation on our history and building renaming became a powerful channel for people to expose the challenges they have been facing. It also gave people the opportunity to voice their frustrations with the pace of our progress and raise concerns about our commitment to racial equity.

My message today, therefore, begins with an apology. I am deeply sorry for these damaging and hurtful experiences which continue to the present day, and I apologise to everyone impacted by those injustices. We aspire to be an inclusive institution and we must do better.

I also want to share what future-facing actions and commitments we are going to take.

To begin, I want to explain in more detail the relationship between the University and the three families and figures that are most closely involved in our history; Wills, Fry and Colston.

Edward Colston was a seventeenth-century slave trader. Famously, his statue was toppled into the docks during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. The University received no funding from Colston, who died nearly 200 years before we were founded, but his personal emblem – the dolphin – still forms part of our crest and our modern logo.

The Wills and Fry families provided substantial funding in the early 20th century which enabled the University to be founded. The families did not own or traffic in enslaved people but the products that their predecessors, during the eighteenth and up to the second part of the nineteenth century dealt in, such as tobacco, sugar and cocoa were undoubtedly connected to enslaved labour. But the past is rarely straight-forward. Indeed, in the case of the Fry family, many members were staunch abolitionists.

The complexity of this history is reflected in the mixed and polarised feedback we received throughout the consultation process (we have made the consultation and engagement report available so you can see the results for yourself). But what is unequivocal, is that all respondents felt that it was crucial to acknowledge and explain our past, and to invest in co-creating solutions to address the educational, economic and health inequalities that we face today.

We have listened. I am, therefore, announcing today that we will be committing to a ten-year, £10 million reparative futures investment programme. The names of key buildings, including those of Wills and Fry will be retained and explained in the proper context. The programme will seek to present the complexities of our past in new ways. We will invest in initiatives and projects that will make a tangible contribution to addressing the racial injustice and inequality that our communities, in Bristol and beyond, face every day.

Importantly, it will look to secure the future of some of the significant initiatives that are ongoing and have already received support over the last few years. It will also ensure we take a more holistic and consistent approach to how we invest and govern our commitments to racial equity and justice as a university. We will appoint accountability partners and experts from our ethnically diverse communities to guide our decision-making and hold us to account going forward. We will create a community fund for proposals from local groups to work with University of Bristol colleagues on initiatives that collaboratively tackle educational, health, and economic inequalities.

We will also be replacing the Colston dolphin insignia from our University of Bristol logo which was designed in 2003. As I explained, Colston was not a donor to the University and had no relationship with the institution or its predecessors. We had already removed Colston’s name from one of our student residences and I feel it is therefore appropriate to remove this symbol, too. The sun symbol of the Wills family and the horse emblem of the Fry family will remain reflecting the wider decision around retaining building names.

I know that some of these decisions will not please everybody – but I believe we must tell our history in an honest, open and transparent way, while at the same time putting our full weight behind substantive action to address the broader issues of systemic racism and inequality here in Bristol and beyond.

The process that has led to these decisions has taken a long time. For some, it has been an imperfect process and may have felt at times that we were dragging our feet or avoiding difficult decisions. I want to reassure you that this was not the case and I share the frustration that it has taken a long time to reach this point. I am confident that we have reached the right balance between proactively addressing our history and being transparent and honest about our past.

But just because the consultation is closed does not mean the debate comes to an end. Indeed, the one place where we should be able to disagree and debate these issues is here, at one of the great global universities. We are an evidence-based institution and fully committed to freedom of speech. This means that continued discussion is welcome as we think carefully about how we describe the full picture of our past, how we represent it, and what we can learn from it. History matters to all of us, particularly when it impacts on current assumptions and practices.

We will of course keep you all updated on the programmes, the initiatives we will be undertaking and how to get involved in our Reparative Futures work. My thanks to the programme team who have led us through this conversation and thank you again to everyone who has taken the time to engage with us and share their views on this complex issue. For more information, see what action we are taking  or if you’d like to comment further, please contact

Read the University’s Annual Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Report highlighting work to deliver equitable outcomes for our students and staff.

6 thoughts on “University of Bristol pledges £10 million to address racial inequalities following consultation into building names

  1. These decisions sound sensible and balanced. As you say, the past is complicated. It seems right to retain the names most strongly connected with the university, while at the same time removing that of Colston, who had no direct connection, at the same time as explaining our history. Bristol was mainly built on the proceeds of the slave trade; there is no getting away from it, but the most important thing is to address sensitive issues in the present and future.

  2. I really struggle with the decision to retain emblems of tobacco and sugar in our logo, even if indirect. Aside from the historical connotations, these products are associated with the early death and reduced wellbeing of millions (8 million + tobacco deaths per year according to the WHO), with stark inequalities in their impact. I had hoped to work under symbols of hope and optimism, not emblems of darkness and misery, whether historical or current.

  3. Dear Prof. Welch,

    I am really grateful to you for writing this open letter, in particular there were some key things you mentioned which I felt very reassured about. I like that you want to tell history in an honest, open and transparent way. I like that you want to tackle systemic racism and inequality here in Bristol and beyond. You go on to say the university is an evidence-based institution and fully committed to freedom of speech. All these things are really reassuring to us, but should this be true I think the university needs to take a stronger stance against what is happening in Gaza. What’s happening there is completely unprecedented and unfortunately it has shown us that we are not living in a post-colonial world. Innocent Palestinians who had nothing to do with the terrible events on october the 7th are being massacred on a unprecedented scale. The language used against the Palestinians is is condescending and derogatory, it’s a deliberate attempt to dehumanize them. If the university really is committed to tackling systemic racism, it should take a stronge stance in its wording against those committing ethnic cleansing in Gaza and the West bank. It could do this by calling for a sustained ceasefire. An immediate sustained ceasefire has been called for by UNICEF, the UN secretary general, the UN general assembly, the UN Human Rights Chief and numerous UN agencies such as UNRWA and UNFP, the World Health Organisation and its leader, the World Food Programme, the government of Ireland, the government of Belgium, amnesty international, the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, Doctors without Borders, amnesty international, and over 600 NGOs from around the world. What I have learnt in the past few weeks is that human rights are not universal and international law is arbitrarily applied. The UK government and its opposition has chosen to ignore an open letter by 250 lawyers and academics warning them about Israel’s violation of International law and as an institution we should not follow the governments stance blindly. Many people feel that they are losing their mind because the pretence and hypocrisy is so visible to see. We should not be silent, by being silent we are being complicit. I hope you can respond and I hope the University can speak up against the grave injustices happening at this current time. I look forward to hearing from you.

  4. I appreciate the work that the consultation has done to publish details about the history of the Fry and Wills families. I am however dissatisfied at how the Society of Merchant Venturers and their well-documented links to the expansion of the slave trade are omitted from official communications. Even if the modern SMV is disentangled from its sordid history, I would like to see a report on how names like the Merchant Venturers Building make the people of Bristol feel, and what (if not renaming) the UoB is doing to address that.

  5. The dolphin symbol in heraldry is a symbol of charity. It is often a link to the Dauphans of France. In modern meanings it represents joy. To remove it because it also appears in the Colston family arms seems illogical, if not foolish.

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