Muse honours local campaigners in final phase of landmark Brixton development

Olive Morris' family unveiling the new plaque.

Olive Morris and Darcus Howe, two of the most influential black British campaigners, have been commemorated by national placemaker Muse as part of the ‘Your New Town Hall’ project, which is delivering place-changing regeneration across three sites on Brixton Hill.   

This multiphase development is bringing new homes, community, medical, and retail facilities to the centre of Brixton. The new-build and refurbishment activity has protected iconic local architecture and provided modern, multifunctional spaces. This has included building a civic centre; refurbishing the Grade II listed town hall; and creating private and affordable homes.  

Once complete later this Autumn, phase 2 (made up of Regal Court, Palladium Court and Darcus Howe apartments) will provide 74 apartments across a new six-storey building, contributing to the total 120 homes in the scheme, of which 40% will be affordable. 

The site’s ground and basement levels will include commercial space as well as council offices and the new Lambeth Archives, which hosts the Olive Morris Collection. The Olive Morris Collection brings together photographs, ephemera, and oral histories relating to Olive Morris and her political activities.   

 An event was held at the new Lambeth Archives building to celebrate the unveiling of a plaque and reading room dedicated to Olive Morris as well as new affordable apartments named after Darcus Howe. 

Mike Auger, managing director – South at Muse, said: “Olive Morris and Darcus Howe, among other black British activists, played a key role in shaping Brixton, London and the rest of the UK. 

"It is their hard work and sacrifice in the 1970s that has shaped our community into what it is today, and so it is important that we honour their legacy.    

  “As a developer that prides itself on embracing the community throughout our schemes, it was important that we worked with the Remembering Olive Collective (ROC) and the Darcus Howe Legacy Collective to ensure that their names remained a prominent part of Brixton’s civic architecture."

He added it had been a privilege to work in partnership with local stakeholders and community groups such as these throughout the build.    

“We hope this will provide a reminder of Olive, Darcus, and the black British activists that are a fundamental part of Brixton’s rich history, as it’s important to take the lessons from their work and apply them to building a better future for this part of the capital,” Auger said.     

The event saw speeches by Kelly Foster from the Remembering Olive Collective (ROC), Leila Howe, wife of Darcus Howe and Darcus Howe Legacy Collective member, as well as Jon Newman (Head of Lambeth Archives), Cllr Clare Hollard (Leader of Lambeth Council), Cllr Sonia Winifred and Cllr Donatus Anyanwu. 

The guests enjoyed a performance from a local steel pan player before the memorial stone unveiling ceremony and opening of the Darcus Howe apartments.   

Olive Morris and Darcus Howe were both pivotal figures within Brixton and the UK’s history, being prominent members of Britain’s Black Power movement.   

Olive Morris was a Jamaican-born British-based community leader and activist in the feminist, black nationalist, and squatters' rights campaigns of the 1970s. Morris was co-founder of the Brixton Black Women’s Group and the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD) and left behind an extraordinary legacy of local activism through her activities organising the Brixton community.   

Olive Morris House, a former council building on the site of phase 2 bore Olive Morris’ name since 1986. Muse worked closely with the ROC to design and include an external memorial stone, reading room in her name and reclaimed a glazed image of Olive Morris which previously featured in the original archives, within the new archive to ensure that there was a central, prominent space in the borough to commemorate her.   

Journalist, activist, and publisher Darcus Howe, who died age 74 in 2017, spent his life working for justice for black British people. After migrating to the UK in 1961, Darcus was an instrumental force for change in the black British struggle for equal rights and justice for over five decades. His proudest achievements include becoming the first editor of political magazine Race Today, where he spent 14 years and being one of the ‘Mangrove Nine’ who were acquitted after a historic trial in 1971.   

Liz Obi, member of the Remembering Olive Collective, said: “The Remembering Olive Collective is happy to be able to join with the Darcus Howe Legacy Collective to celebrate the official opening of the Darcus Howe apartments and the unveiling of the memorial stone commemorating Olive Morris House on Brixton Hill, as it provides the community with a unique opportunity to celebrate the lives of two black activists.   

“We are delighted with the memorial stone which commemorates Olive Morris House and which acknowledges Olive’s activism within the community. It is fitting also that Lambeth Archives, which hosts the Olive Morris Collection, will occupy the ground floor space in the new building and that they have named the reading room after her.”   

Leila Howe, wife of the late Darcus Howe, said: “I am pleased that Darcus’ life and work is being commemorated in this way. The affordable apartments are a fitting tribute that acknowledges his life and work to make Britain a diverse and equal society. He published the journal Race Today, a voice for marginalised communities in Brixton, where he lived and worked for many years.”   

Councillor Claire Holland, Leader of Lambeth Council, said: “We’re extremely proud of this building, the final piece of Lambeth’s Your New Town Hall project, which is approaching 200 new homes for the people of our borough. 

"This entire project has been focused from the start on the enormous benefits it would bring to our community – from the new homes to the new archives and opening up the Town Hall to the people of Lambeth.   

“It is fitting that this new building will carry the names of two people who were such tireless – and fearless – advocates for justice, and so passionate about Brixton."

She added: "Both Olive Morris and Darcus Howe fought against racism all their adult lives and we are immensely grateful to their unique contribution to our borough and our country as a whole. 

"I am delighted that this new building will ensure their legacy is remembered for generations to come.”  

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