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Labour of Love

An East Sussex secondary school has unveiled the first statue of a Romany heroine in British history to mark Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month

Britain’s first sculpture of a Romany heroine has been unveiled at an East Sussex Secondary School. At 9:00am on the 15th of June 2023, a forged steel sculpture of Kizzy Lovell, the iconic Romany protagonist of Rumer Godden’s 1972 novel the Diddakoi was unveiled by her creator Artist Blacksmith Jake Bowers. Although there are over 600,000 Romany citizens living in Britain, this sculpture is thought to be the first to ever depict a Romany character.

In the 1972 novel, later turned into the BBC TV series Kizzy, central character Kizzy Lovell is ruthlessly bullied because of her Romany identity. Overcoming racism from fellow pupils and local residents in the town of Rye, Kizzy claims her rightful place in British society. The sculpture was created by pupils of the Hastings Academy and Sussex Gypsies and Travellers to mark the 50th anniversary of the book in a project coordinated by the Hastings based A Town Explores a Book literary festival. Now freshly galvanised she has been installed at the entrance of the Hastings Academy to remind all pupils to be proud of the things that make them unique. She is being unveiled in June to mark Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month.

Simon Addison, Principal of the Hastings Academy, is proud to host the statue of Kizzy Lovell on school property. He says: "The story of the Diddakoi is thought to be the first example of a mixed- race Romany protagonist appearing in British children's literature. In the story Kizzy overcomes racist bullying from school children to claim her rightful place for herself and her identity in the small town of Rye. We are proud that from now on she'll be right next to Rye Road as a reminder that all cultures are valued and respected within our school. For our pupils with a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller identity it is also powerful message that schools are places where their culture is cherished and celebrated."

Artist blacksmith and Drive 2 Survive activist Jake Bowers is delighted that the sculpture has found a permanent home in a school where his three daughters all went. He says: “When I went to school there was no mention of our culture at all, our heritage was derided and hated. Using the original Romany craft of blacksmithing was always going to be the best way to create a powerful representation of such a bold, defiant, and resilient culture. I hope that Kizzy’s presence at the entrance to the school on Rye Road will remind every Romany person that sees her to be proud of the 1000-year journey our ancestors made from India.”

Underlining the power public sculpture has to tackle racism, Archie, a 15 year old pupil who comes from a Gypsy family said: "The day the sculpture went up was the first day I have not been called a f***ing Pikey!" All of the schools 900 pupils have been in assemblies focusing on Gypsy and Traveller identity and history.

The Hastings Academy is part of the University of Brighton Academies Trust, a family of infant, primary and secondary schools based in Sussex. A spokesperson for the Trust expressed their enthusiasm and said "The University of Brighton Academies Trust are committed to promoting inclusivity and celebrating diversity across all its academies and are delighted to see our Hastings community marking a moment in history. We are dedicated to providing a nurturing environment where all pupils feel valued and supported. This sculpture serves as a testament to the importance of inclusivity and cultural representation within our educational institutions."

Pupils and Staff at the Hastings Academy welcome their newest and most determined pupil. Photo: Gail Borrow / A Town Explores a Book

BBC South East News reported on the unveiling on June 15th in the following news report.

If you want to see Kizzy for yourself visit:

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