‘put her forward’: an extraordinary day of remarkable women

I would be hard pressed to say what my favourite day in this job has been. I’ve been lucky to have a multitude of fun, inspiring, rewarding and every other kind of great experience since starting with Heritage Open Days in January 2017. But last Monday was certainly in the top 10.

It was selection day for our put her forward project. Over the past few months, through workshops and conversations across the country and online submissions, people from all walks of life, and all corners of the country, have submitted nominations of living women they think deserve to be made into a statue because of the remarkable things they’ve done.

And Monday was the day we convened to review the nominations and select the 25 women we’ll invite to be 3-d modelled into pinpoint-perfect figurines, which will be unveiled over the Heritage Open Days weekends. We had our work cut out for us! We asked people to think about what we commemorate and how and who deserves to be celebrated in this way…and they responded sensitively, passionately and thoughtfully. Hundreds of people submitted, sharing stories of remarkable women who are making a difference; women who are changing, shaping and improving places, lives, communities and our world.

The nominations were powerful and moving. They included scientists, athletes, community leaders, volunteers, mothers, politicians and students and contained stories of unsung heroics, tenacity, compassion, kindness and strength. It was a privilege to read them, a joy to discuss and beyond difficult to choose our 25. We felt a real sense of gratitude to all the nominators who wrote with eloquence about why their nominee is statue-worthy, and the work she has done/is doing.  It was humbling and moving to hear these women’s stories.

The process of selection was not about the number of nominations or finding the ‘most worthy’ women. We looked at the positive impact they’ve made on the lives of those around them as revealed through the nomination.  We also looked for geographic diversity and a mix of ages, class, ethnicities, disabilities and reasons why they were nominated. This project highlights something we all know: there are remarkable women everywhere, making our country and our communities better, fairer and more beautiful. And it highlights how few of them are recognised, celebrated or known in conventional ways or in proportion to the difference they have made. There are barely two dozen statues of non-mythical women in the UK today!

That’s the point of put her forward and what I am thrilled to say our nominators engaged with and responded to so powerfully.  This project raises questions about what we celebrate, commemorate and memorialise publically. It’s a chance for us to tell new stories, creating a snapshot of our country’s remarkable women alive in 2018, a legacy, a heritage for the future. One that looks beyond the rules of ‘worthiness’ or ‘significance’ that seem to have dictated our public statues for so long, and will show a more inclusive and more truthful range of remarkable women,  highlighting the difference-makers in every part of our world.

So—what’s next? We’re in the process of contacting all 25 women, getting their consent and approval and working through the tangle of logistics involved in getting these amazing (busy!) women to the scanning studios. Watch this space for updates and follow #putherforward for news of the project.