How city bit back at controversial 'Happy Brexit Day' poster with love and defiance
PUBLISHED: 08:41 03 February 2020 | UPDATED: 08:41 03 February 2020
An "abhorrent" poster calling on people in a Norwich tower block to speak only English has prompted a defiant reaction from its tenants - with a crystal clear message that this does not represent our city.
On the day the United Kingdom left the European Union, an anonymous poster was put up in Winchester Tower, ordering tenants to either speak English or move out.
Reported to have been placed on every floor of the city council-run tower, the posters were swiftly removed by caretakers and disposed of - however, a picture of them spread widely across social media.
In response, a defiant message came across from local people and further afield - that Norwich is a welcoming and tolerant city that will not stand for prejudice of any kind.
Over the weekend, fresh posters were put up to replace the original one with messages of support to any European tenants. Then, yesterday afternoon, more than 50 people - including tenants - took part in a demonstration outside the tower.
Songs were sung, hands were held and demonstrators cried "thank you" in a variety of different languages - defiantly flying in the face of the message set out by the first poster.
The poster was also widely condemned by politicians, public figures and social media users from far and wide, as a police hate crime probe was launched.
Simon Bailey, Norfolk's chief constable, said: "There is no place in society for hatred and intolerance.
"Nobody should have to face intimidation because of who they are and it is more important than ever that we stand together in the face of hostility. We remain committed to helping people feel safe and secure as they go about their lives."
Clive Lewis, Norwich South MP, said: "Let's call this what it is: a hate crime. Those of us who live in Norwich know such sentiment here is thankfully rare. Norwich is an overwhelmingly supportive, tolerant and welcoming city and one we are rightly proud of. However, we cannot and will not take that situation for granted."
The Bishop of Norwich the Rt Rev Graham Usher said: "I found the wording on the poster appalling and contrary to my experience of the city of Norwich as a place of welcome and care.
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"Our national history is also one where people who have been persecuted and driven from their homes as refugees can make their home. "
Bishop Graham added: "Britain will only be 'Great' if it continues to show the values of tolerance, understanding and generosity to those who become our neighbours."
Yesterday's protests were organised by the Norwich branch of Stand Up To Racism, which rallied enraged residents to demonstrate that the poster's message did not represent them.
Poppy Rose, 62, who lives in Winchester Tower, said: "I was disgusted when I saw the poster. I could not believe somebody in our tower could write those things - we are not a racist community here, we are a caring one.
"I hope whoever made that poster has seen the reaction and realised the error of his or her ways - although I very much doubt it."
Another Winchester Tower tenant, who did not wish to be named, said: "Living in a tower block we get looked down upon as it is, but the coward who put the poster up has just made matters worse. We love to live here and we are proud to live here, but this person's actions make me so ashamed. They do not speak for me."
The posters were reported to the police by the city council, which manages the building, and a spokesman for the council backed the defiant message.
A statement issued by Norwich City Council said: "Norwich has a proud history of being a welcoming city and we will not tolerate this behaviour.
"As soon as we were made aware of this incident, we reported it to the police and they are investigating.
"We take this very seriously and urge residents to contact us or the police if they have any concerns."
Mike Stonard, a city council cabinet member, said: "I absolutely condemn this abhorrent poster. Whoever put it there has committed a hate crime, it is as simple as that.
"Many people voted for Brexit for a range of different reasons however I am sure not many of them will condone this kind of thing."