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Leicester ready to celebrate its suffragette

Published on Thursday, February 1, 2018

A BRONZE statue of the shoe factory machinist who fought for women’s right to vote will be unveiled in Leicester’s new market square this weekend.


The 7ft-tall statue of Alice Hawkins – who led the women’s suffrage movement in Leicester in the early 1900s – will be unveiled on Sunday 4 February as part of an afternoon of events celebrating the woman who helped change the electoral system in the UK.


As a stage programme gets under way in the new market square at 2pm on Sunday, a 200-strong procession – including dozens of cycling suffragettes, three local choirs and representatives of local women’s organisations – will set off from the city’s Secular Hall on Humberstone Gate East.


At the head of the procession will be ‘Alice Hawkins’ herself, who will lead the procession to the Clock Tower.


Flanked by women carrying banners, Alice will address the crowds from a soapbox, before leading a rousing rendition of ‘The Women’s Marseillaise’.


The procession will then continue to the new market square, where the statue will be unveiled shortly afterwards.


Elaine Pantling – the writer and performer who created a theatre piece called ‘Alice: In Her Shoes’  – will play Alice Hawkins at the event, and she hopes that people will mark the occasion by joining the procession.


“In Alice’s day, men would have joined these processions too, standing shoulder to shoulder with their wives or mothers to show their support,” she said.


“We want our procession to be open to everyone too, so anyone who would like to follow us to the new market square and join in with our songs will be very welcome indeed.


"It is a privilege to be part of this prestigious event and an honour to be walking in Alice's shoes!"


Organisers hope that people will start gathering in the new market square from around 1.45pm on Sunday to enjoy a stage programme – hosted by Geeta Pendse – that gets under way at 2pm.


The statue will then be unveiled at around 2.40pm.


The honour of unveiling the statue has been given to four women, all of whom have a connection to the life and work of Alice Hawkins.


Kate Barratt, Alice’s great-great-granddaughter, local mental health campaigner Alice Gibbs, MP for Leicester West Liz Kendall and Cllr Manjula Sood, assistant city mayor for communities and equalities, will remove the drapes covering the statue and reveal it for the first time.


Deputy city mayor and heritage champion Cllr Adam Clarke said: "This statue will be dedicated not just to Alice, but to all women who have fought so hard for equality.


“I am delighted that the unveiling will be carried out by four women who all, in their own way, reflect an element of Alice’s life and continuing legacy."


Created by sculptor Sean Hedges-Quinn and funded by local businessman Jamie Lewis, the statue will stand on a 4ft granite plinth overlooking the new market square, close to where Alice would have addressed the crowds at the height of the suffragette movement.


It took Sean around 14 weeks to sculpt the statue from clay – and he’s pleased with how it looks.


“Alice was a strong-willed and strong-minded woman who believed passionately in her cause, and I wanted to show that spirit and determination,” he said.


“Facing up to the hecklers who surrounded her in the market place would have taken guts, so Alice was clearly no shrinking violet. That’s why I’ve portrayed her in a confident stance, gesturing towards the crowds with defiance in her eyes.


“I’m very proud to have been given this commission and hope that my statue will do justice to a truly remarkable woman.”


The unveiling of the statue will mark the start of a year-long celebration commemorating the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 – the act that gave all men, and some women, the right to vote.


A nationwide programme of events will be taking place, with seven cities receiving a share of the Government’s £1.2 million Centenary Cities fund.


Bolton, Bristol, Leeds, Leicester, London, Manchester and Nottingham will all host a range of exciting projects, with Leicester receiving a grant of £189,500 that will fund a series of educational and celebratory events inspired by the life and work of Alice Hawkins.