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Frank Dobson Square's empty plinth. Image courtesy of www.inspiringcity.com
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Local residents protest as Tower Hamlets Council reneges on repairs to Frank Dobson Square

The improvements were the result of a six-year campaign to bring back artist Frank Dobson’s ‘Woman and Fish’ statue to its original home in Bethnal Green.

On the 60th anniversary of artist Frank Dobson’s death on 22 July at 1 pm, local residents are coming together at Frank Dobson Square to not only celebrate the artist’s life but to protest at the Council’s broken promise to revitalise the square.

The revitalisation of Frank Dobson Square was one of the 34 cancelled NCIL-funded projects that were specifically nominated by residents and community groups.

A six-year campaign to bring back the famous statue and repair Frank Dobson Square in Bethnal Green finally had success as funding and plans were confirmed in October 2021. Just as a consultation was launched on the works, local residents learnt that the funding and plans have now been cancelled, with little to no explanation from the Council.

Frank Dobson Square, on the corner of Cambridge Heath Road and Cephas Avenue, is a public square that commemorates the life and works of renowned artist Frank Dobson. He was a sculptor from the early 20th century who taught Henry Moore and inspired a generation of abstract and figurative sculptures in the UK.

The square was home to a piece by the artist ‘Woman and Fish’ (bought by the LCC from the people of London in 1963) which was vandalised, including being decapitated, in 2002. The statue was completely destroyed and removed by the Council. In 2006 a replica of the statue was created by artist Antonio Lopez Reche – this now resides in Millwall Park on the Isle of Dogs, well far away from the enjoyment of Bethnal Green residents.

Local campaigners have long been requesting an artwork by Frank Dobson to return to the currently empty and neglected Frank Dobson Square. For the enjoyment of local residents and to be admired by passersby on the busy thoroughfare (Bus routes 106, 254) between Whitechapel and Bethnal Green. In 2018 the campaign group ‘Bring Back our Statue’ took a petition to Full Council in 2017, which was accepted.

A letter received by the ‘Bring Back our Statue’ campaign confirmed that the refurbishment of Frank Dobson Square and the replacement of the statue were included in the local infrastructure plan for the area. Yet Council documents on Capital Works confirm that this has now been cancelled, as the public space continues to decay. 

Relatives of the artist Frank Dobson, his grandson, great-grandson and granddaughter had been working with the Council to select two potential artworks that local residents could choose from to ensure a Frank Dobson work was back in its rightful place at the centre of Frank Dobson Square.

Richard and Tara, local residents who are leading the campaign, are sad and angry that the long-neglected Square will now still be overlooked.

Richard said: ‘I implore Tower Hamlets Council to again confirm funding for these works to the Square. The square has been in a very sorry state for nearly 20 years, and it makes the entrance to the estate look terrible, especially on the busy thoroughfare between Whitechapel and Bethnal Green. 

‘Having a great piece of artwork, and paying homage to a famous artist will help people feel proud of where they live and help increase footfall for local businesses.’

Tara added: ‘It took local people over 6 years to get confirmation from the Council to receive funding, after petitioning, attending Council meetings, many emails and lots of pressure from local people. 

‘It is very disheartening that only a few weeks after information about a local consultation we now learn that these hard-won plans have been scrapped. With no reasoning by the Council. 

‘We will not give up, and we will keep asking Tower Hamlets Council to help bring back our statue for all local people and passersby to enjoy.’

Cllr. Sirajul Islam, Leader of the Labour Group in Tower Hamlets said: ‘Previous Labour administration allocated NCIL funding towards rejuvenating a well-used public space called Frank Dobson Square. It’s a great shame that Aspire mayor has cancelled £17m of NCIL funding which included Frank Dobson Square. 

‘Campaigners for Frank Dobson Square brought a petition to a Full Council meeting six years ago. As a Labour administration, we listened to our residents and as ward Councillor I worked with them to ensure funds were allocated toward the square’s improvement. I feel sad for the campaigners but more so for a neglected public open space. Finally, I would like to convey my thanks to the campaigners for their tireless work.”

The campaign group is asking local people and supporters to attend Frank Dobson Square at 1pm on Saturday 22 July 2023 to protest the neglect of the Square.

You can also write to the Mayor of Tower Hamlets and ask him to reinstate plans to revitalise Frank Dobson Square at Mayor@towerhamlets.gov.uk.

If you liked this piece, find our article about the return of Frank Wang’s coffee stand.

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2 thoughts on “Local residents protest as Tower Hamlets Council reneges on repairs to Frank Dobson Square

  • Public spaces are very important. The council’s Mayor, Lutfur Rahman has not adequately explained why a fully funded project, agreed by the last mayor, to restore and maintain the square, from ring-fenced public funds, was summarily removed from the latest budget last month and redirected to The Mayor’s Fund. To do what? Neither has he consulted our project despite LBTH staff being fully aware of our 6 year campaign. FOI’s on the way.
    Emails to please and see you on 22 Oct 1.00 in Frank Dobson Square. Refreshments provided.

    Reply
  • Can we not have a march onto the town hall just down the road afterwards?

    Reply

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