A stunning new bridge honouring the legacy of a man who died after being racially harassed has been officially opened in Leeds.
The David Oluwale Bridge is hailed as a symbolic link between the city’s past, present and future as a ceremony marked work on the landmark project being formally completed.
Spanning the River Aire between Sovereign Street and Water Lane, the bridge, which will be illuminated every night, has been named in honour of David Oluwale, who travelled to the UK from Nigeria and was targeted because of his mental health, homelessness and race.
He tragically drowned in the river in 1969 in a racially-motivated incident which left a lasting and poignant imprint on the city, inspiring a number of books, plays and a recently-installed blue plaque.
The project to create a bridge in his memory has been a long-term partnership project between Leeds City Council, the David Oluwale Memorial Association (DOMA) and key stakeholders across the city.
Emily Zobel Marshall, DOMA’s co-chair, said: “The new David Oluwale Bridge is deeply symbolic. It represents a bridging between our present and our future as a city.
“It is a physical emblem of our commitment to confront historic institutional failings and prejudices which led to the death of an innocent man, as well as a representation of renewal; of our commitment to aim for a future where people from all cultural and economic backgrounds are made to feel safe and welcome in Leeds.”
Engineers BAM Nuttall began construction on the 40-tonne bridge last year, with the structure fabricated locally in Yorkshire, less than 20 miles from the site.
Contractors then used huge specialist equipment to transport the 30m long bridge to the riverside before carefully installing it with a crane.
Now fully open to the public, the bridge will be used by pedestrians and cyclists as well as being a key element of the ambitious South Bank regeneration programme.
It will also fulfil one of the project’s long-standing priorities to ensure better pedestrian and cycling connection between the city centre, the train station, Aire Park and other green spaces around the city centre.
Councillor James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “This beautiful bridge is a truly inspiring monument to David Oluwale’s tragic story as well as a powerful and positive statement about everything that we want Leeds to stand for today.
“By acknowledging the city’s past as we look forward to what lies ahead for Leeds, we are ensuring that we pass on the lessons we have learned to future generations while encouraging them to continue to strive for a brighter future.
“This bridge will be a proud symbol of that ambition and of our commitment to diversity, inclusion and a Leeds which is better connected in every way.”
Alison Lowe OBE, deputy mayor for policing and crime, added: “I was honoured to help open David’s bridge.
“It’s a moving tribute to a life so cruelly cut short and an important reminder for us all to do better.
“Whilst the situation has improved since his death, there is more to be done and we continue to work towards a West Yorkshire which is safe, just and inclusive for all.”
A blue plaque commemorating David Oluwale was recent installed by Leeds Civic Trust on Leeds Bridge, carrying words by author and playwright Caryl Phillips which read: “The river tried to carry you away, but you remain with us in Leeds.”
Regeneration of the city’s South Bank will provide 8,000 new homes and 35,000 new jobs, new educational establishments and a new city park.
The project also complements several other improvements in the area, including the transformation of Crown Point Road, with more space for walking, cycling and bus facilities being created as part of the upcoming Aire Park development – a mixed-use district with the UK’s largest new city centre green space at its heart.
Developer Vastint UK recently began construction work on the five-acre section of Aire Park that will sit between Meadow Lane and Crown Point Road.
The bridge was delivered as part of a joint venture between BAM and Mott Macdonald. Speaking on behalf of the joint venture, Gareth Farrier, regional director for BAM, said: “Delivering this new bridge for our long-standing partner Leeds City Council and the David Oluwale Memorial Association is a privilege, and we’re proud to have played a part in creating this symbol of diversity and inclusion for the city.
“The bridge not only better connects Leeds, with a new pedestrian and cycling route, its design enables the bridge to be lit in a striking array of colours, in support of the city’s calendar of cultural events.
“The bridge was fabricated locally in Yorkshire and made a short 20 mile journey to site. Our commitment to using local suppliers means that businesses within Yorkshire have benefitted from the scheme.”
The bridge received funding from the government’s Getting Building Fund, as part of a £8.6 million package awarded to Leeds City Council for the City Park transformation.
Leeds City Council received more than £18m from the fund, as part of a successful £52.6m bid made to the government by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority on behalf of the region and its five local authorities.
The council is also very grateful to local businesses Asda and Leeds Building Society for their help and support to secure the landing rights for the bridge.