Although the SCT have been involved in a similar project in Prague, this would be the first Speakers’ Corner in the UK since an Act of Parliament inaugurated the original in London’s Hyde Park almost 150 years ago.
The project has been in development for several months. Consultation with various local organisations took place during the Summer and Autumn of 2007, with a "Coffee House Challenge" event held a Starbucks on Clumber Street in October offering people the right to have their say.
SCT describe this event as "a great success with an impressive attendance of Nottingham people of all ages and backgrounds, a great deal of enthusiasm for the Speakers’ Corner project and several original ideas on how to take it forward." A few months later, in January 2008, the Nottingham Speakers’ Corner Committee was formed. This brings together twenty representatives from a range of public, private and voluntary organisations and will "own" the initiative, determining which direction it heads in.
Shortly after, the Committee agreed to a recommendation by the City Council, supported by the police and SCT to locate the new Speaker's Corner on the junction of King Street and Queen Street at the edge of Old Market Square. The area is to be paved and landscaped and will share real estate with a new statue of former Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough. The plan is for the new space to be officially launched in the autumn, but in the meantime there will be a temporary, mobile Speaker's Corner.
Committee chair Tim Desmond "we considered the options very carefully and are confident that King Street is the right site for Nottingham’s Speakers’ Corner. There are larger and perhaps more flexible spaces elsewhere but they’re outside the city centre and that reduces their value. The whole point of our Speakers’ Corner is that it should be accessible to all and that if something interesting or important is happening there it can attract and engage people as they go about their daily business. That’s what makes it different from Hyde Park and, we believe, it’s what will make our Speakers’ Corner such an important feature of Nottingham life."
The project is to be officially launched on Friday 22 February with a "Day for Debate", consisting og various events organised by the Nottingham Speakers’ Corner Committee. These are to run all day, from 11am 9pm, with discussions covering the priorities of young mothers to a debate on the future of football and are to take place in such diverse venues as the Hermitage Community Centre in Sneinton and the Chamber of the Council House.
Activists are likely to give this initiative a cautious welcome. Many are familiar with interference from assorted pretend police when they try and spread their message in the Market Square. Some will be wary of the risk that such busybodies will come to regard Speaker's Corner as a designated free speech zone and try to insist that anybody expressing a political opinion elsewhere in the Square relocate themselves accordingly. As long as that doesn't happen, anything which encourages ordinary people to engage in political debate has got to be a good thing.
Speakers Corner Trust: http://www.speakerscornertrust.org