New Leeds city centre bridge joining Sovereign Street and Water Lane officially opens to honour David Oluwale

A new bridge honouring the legacy of a man who died after being racially harassed has been officially opened in Leeds.
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The David Oluwale Bridge was opened today (Thursday) and hailed as a “deeply 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.

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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 blue plaque.

The new David Oluwale bridge in Leeds city centre.The new David Oluwale bridge in Leeds city centre.
The new David Oluwale bridge in Leeds city centre.

His death led to the first ever prosecutions of British police involved in the death of a black person and in April last year, he was remembered with a plaque unveiled in the city. However, it was stolen just hours after being placed on Leeds Bridge. A laminated copy was then placed as a replacement but was vandalised before the original plaque was put in place again.

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.

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“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.”

Work began on the 40-tonne bridge last year, with the structure fabricated locally in Yorkshire. Contractors then used huge specialist equipment to transport the 30m long bridge to the riverside before installing it with a crane.

Now fully open to the public, the bridge will be used by pedestrians and cyclists as well as being an element of the South Bank regeneration programme.

Coun 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. 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.”

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.