For decades, UK coinage has celebrated some of the most influential and significant people in British history.
However, a lack of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic figures (BAME) being recognised on legal tender has led to campaigning for greater inclusivity.
This comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak stated he was considering proposals from a campaign group. He has since asked the Royal Mint to come up with new designs honouring BAME figures who have served the nation – such as military figures and nurses.
Will Mahatma Gandhi be the first to feature?
It has been confirmed that the first figure to be considered in a new series of UK coins that will recognise and celebrate BAME figures on UK currency will be Mahatma Gandhi.
Gandhi is most well known for leading the successful campaign for India’s independence, using nonviolent resistance which inspired human rights movements across the world.
However, he also has strong ties with London, having attended the University College of London law school in 1888.
Despite leaving for India after being called to the bar in 1891, he continued to return to London, right up until his final visit in 1931 where he attended a conference on the future of India.
Military nurse Mary Seacole and spy Noor Inayat Khan also being considered
The Jamaican-born business woman and nurse, Mary Seacole is being considered as one of the figures to feature on a British currency.
At the outbreak of the Crimean War, Seacole travelled to England hoping to join Florence Nightingale’s famous team of nurses.
However, she was turned down and instead travelled to Crimea herself where she established the “British Hotel”, intended to be somewhere soldiers could rest and eat.
With the location of her hotel being so close to the conflict, she was able to visit the battlefield, sometimes under fire, to nurse the wounded. Indeed, she nursed sick soldiers so kindly that they called her ‘Mother Seacole’.
In May, a community hospital was named after the pioneering nurse and there is also now a trust in her name, which aims to educate and inform the public about her life, work and achievements.
Noor Inayat Khan is also another figure in consideration. Khan was a wartime British secret agent of Indian descent who was the first female radio operator sent into Nazi-occupied France in 1943, by the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
Many members of the same network were arrested not long after entering France, but she spent the summer moving from place to place, trying to send messages back to London while avoiding capture.
In November 1943, she was sent to Pforzheim prison in Germany where she was kept in chains and in solitary confinement. Despite repeated torture, she refused to reveal any information about British Intelligence.
2014 Walter Tull £5
In 2014, a commemorative Silver Proof £5 coin was issued within a series of coins commemorating the First World War.
Recognised as the first black officer in Britain’s Armed Forces, Walter Tull is celebrated on this £5 coin as a hero and famous figure from the war.
However, coins such as this celebrating BAME figures on UK coins are few and far between, and when issued as higher specification precious metal coins, they end up being less accessible to the general public.
Banknotes of Colour Campaign
A ‘Banknotes of Colour’ campaign is currently being led by former Conservative parliamentary candidate, Zehra Zaidi in efforts to see the better representation of non-white peoples on British currency.
She said, “We must tell the story of inclusive representation as it matters for cohesion and it matters in the narrative of who we are as a nation.”
We look forward to hearing more as the story unfolds as Rishi Sunak considers these proposals which would recognise and celebrate BAME figures on UK currency.
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