Lancaster University students launch petition to rename Sugarhouse nightclub due to links to city's slave trade

Lancaster students have started a petition asking for the Sugarhouse to be renamed due to its connections to the city's involvement in the slave trade.

By Gayle Rouncivell
Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 9:13 am
The Sugarhouse in Lancaster.

The nightclub is located in Sugarhouse Alley and is on the site of a 17th century sugarhouse and boiling house, used to process sugar and other produce grown and harvested on slave plantations in the West Indies.

At the time, Lancaster was the fourth largest slave trading port in Britain.

The petition was set up by Lancaster University students who think it should be renamed to "ensure that vicious atrocities are not normalised or celebrated, but instead remembered in the appropriate way".

Sign up to our daily newsletter

And it asks Lancaster University Students’ Union (LUSU), who own the nightclub independently, to help educate students to ensure that the history of the Sugarhouse is not forgotten.

The petition requires the support of two per cent - around 320 - of the student body to be put to a student referendum and currently has just under 200 signatures.

The petition, which can be found here, says: "We call on Lancaster University Students’ Union to commit to renaming the Sugarhouse nightclub as part of a broader approach to recognising Lancaster's historic ties to the transatlantic slave trade."

The students say that during a Students' Union’s Executive Committee last summer there was discussion regarding the renaming of the Sugarhouse.

They said the "general consensus from that meeting was that most, if not all, members of the committee were in favour of renaming the Sugarhouse but were wanting to ensure that students were consulted before any name change or rebranding occurred".

"However, what also became very clear was that many if not most students did not have any prior knowledge about the origins of the name of the Sugarhouse until the discussion was brought to light by the SU’s Executive Committee," the petition says.

"The sheer ignorance regarding the matter has been very clear by the response of some students, with one student even claiming that this history should be “celebrated”.

"The link between Lancaster, the transatlantic slave trade and the West Indies is undeniable. Our aim is not to change or erase history, but to ensure that vicious atrocities are not normalised or celebrated, but, instead, remembered in the appropriate way.

"Comments regarding the celebration of such history further prove the importance of an implementation of an educational programme regarding the Sugarhouse alongside the name change.

"Failing to educate students regarding this will only lead to further misinformed comments being made and that by not appropriately acknowledging the history at all, we are surely contributing to its gradual erasure.

"We believe that the placement of plaques, for example, is not an adequate alternative to renaming the Sugarhouse, as that could very easily become a passive and performative gesture which will very quickly blend into its surroundings and be subsumed into the everyday.

"Whilst we understand the current difficulties with budgets and the union's financial position, we are confident that both the renaming and rebranding of the Sugarhouse are realistic goals for the Students’ Union."

The petition also calls on the Students' Union to implement the following:

*Launch, fund and promote an annual educational programme (perhaps specifically during Freshers’ Week) which discuss Lancaster’s History and also bring up the Sugarhouse. This will ensure that the history of the Sugarhouse is not forgotten but, instead, remembered in the appropriate way,

*Allow students to put in name suggestions which will be reviewed by the union’s staff alongside the help of volunteers, such as academics, who can help formulate a shortlist to subsequently be put forward to the student body. This will ensure that all names within the list are appropriate but also that the student body will have the final say.

*Make the renaming of the Sugarhouse an official part of SU policy so that all future FTOs are also held accountable in regards to this matter, until the renaming and rebranding takes place. We expect this process to take place as soon as the financial situation of the SU allows."

Max Kafula, BAME students' officer for Lancaster University Students' Union, said he is glad the petition has been organised and urged people to sign it.

“Like so many other students, I was not truly aware of Lancaster’s colonial history until it was mentioned to me," he said. "Ever since then, I have been a firm supporter of the quest to rename the Sugarhouse.

"During last year’s Black History Month, myself and so many others including the petition leaders - the 'Why is My Curriculum White?' campaign - brought this into the student domain.

"While it bring some attention to it, we all agreed as a community that this should not be a one-time discussion. I am glad that the petition is gaining traction and congratulate 'Why is My Curriculum White? campaign for organising the petition.

"The next stage now is how we can bring all stakeholders to the table in ensuring that no one is left out if the conversation and the decision making.

"I do acknowledge that the Sugarhouse does have a special place in so many students' hearts, and I want to reassure them that whatever happens, that we remember the club in a sensible way and will remain part of Lancaster’s history. Also, if you haven’t signed the petition, please do!"

Atree Ghosh, vice president (union development) and chair of the executive committee and a director of LUSU Services Co, said: "The petitions and papers being brought forward by students are continuously being considered by the Students' Union and if it meets the required thresholds, our intentions are to continue these conversations with all stakeholders and embed it into our long term strategy."

A Lancaster City Council spokesman said: "As part of the work we are doing with local community groups and Black History Lancaster to examine the area’s connections to slavery and find ways to decolonise our history, we would be very happy to work with any organisations that wish to achieve the same aims.”