A reflection on the Notting Hill Carnival: A triumph for cultural and social cohesion in London

rp_Jamie-150x150.jpgBack in August I went to the Notting Hill Carnival for the first time. Carnival has come a long way since the dark days of the 1970s where rioting and racial tension tarnished its image and murders saturated the headlines of the event on an annual basis.

Since then, however, the Notting Hill Carnival has managed to turn its image of violence and racial tension into one of celebration and community engagement amongst people from all across London and the UK, whilst providing the benchmark for social enterprises seeking cultural engagement and community cohesion.

Carnival can provide an effective model for other minority groups and social enterprises to learn and act upon on a wider scale, throughout more cities in the UK, to instigate community cohesion, greater cultural enrichment and fundraising. According to the London Development Agency, it contributes up to £93m a year to the city’s economy and supports the equivalent of 3,000 full-time jobs.

The artform has reinvented itself from being a seemingly insular event to one that welcomes people of all backgrounds from across London. The result of this is an amalgamation of people of all ages, races and backgrounds coming together under the umbrella of Carnival. It is amazing to see so many different people coming together to have fun, dance and celebrate all that Carnival has to offer.

Indeed, pioneers of the Notting Hill Carnival Sound System scene such as Norman Jay have commented on how the crowds, as well as the sound systems, have become more eclectic to cater for a more racially and culturally diverse group of people, not just the Afro Caribbean community.  Similarly, in America, the equivalent to Carnivals are ‘block parties’, which are becoming increasingly popular and are also a fantastic way of bringing urban neighborhoods together.

The success of Notting Hill makes it a great model for future social enterprise schemes looking to promote social and cultural cohesion

The success of Notting Hill makes it a great model for future social enterprise schemes looking to promote social and cultural cohesion

According to the research conducted by the Greater London Authority at the 2013 Notting Hill Carnival, 98% of those questioned felt that the Notting Hill Carnival played an important role in bringing the community together.[1] It is also one of only two arts events (Soul and R&B music events) which people of all levels of social status, education, class and income are equally likely to attend, where social status has no significant impact on people’s likelihood of attendance.

Through taking advantage of its central location, wide range of rich cultural capital of London and having the event on bank holiday August, the Notting Hill Carnival has demonstrated itself to be one of the most inclusive art forms in England today, engaging people across divides and demographics of age, race, locality and social status.

For social enterprises and charities looking to promote culture within their communities, Carnival highlights to me the wide-ranging attributes that they must emulate, i.e. an accessible, wide-ranging, and inclusive cultural event that needs to be engaging for all.

An example of a not-for-profit social enterprise that has indirectly boosted the economic success of Carnival is the ‘Mahogany band’. Unlike other bands at Carnival it operates all year round and also travels the world, supported by grants from Arts Council England, and acting as a global ambassador for Carnival, enriching its cultural capital. Mahogany’s performers help create a unique cultural product that allows Carnival to stand out amongst other events globally, attracting more visitors as well as more business from a wide range of sources, it’s a clever creative enterprise model.

What do you think? Is the Carnival model transferrable to other charitable or enterprising causes? Should more funding be directed towards Carnival bands? Let us know via twitter @OfficialCause4.

3 Replies

3 responses to “A reflection on the Notting Hill Carnival: A triumph for cultural and social cohesion in London

  1. Carolyn Clark

    At last a realistic piece on Carnival which hits the nail on the head. So tired of crime reports dominating media coverage. Only thing I’d emphasise is the importance of the costume bands, too much in recent years on the ‘pop concert’ bit and sound systems. With no appearance fees or even prize money to help support the huge production, building and transport costs, some costumes are cut back and the stunning moving sculpture are fewer. Carnival bands need support, not only funding, at grass roots level.

  2. Michelle Wright

    Dear Carolyn

    Thank you so much for this post. We agree and find that funders don’t understand Carnival and the breadth that it has to offer. There is a communications role to improve the art-form’s perception and to ensure the support and funding that you suggest.


  3. Pax Nindi

    It is positive to read such articles especially as Carnival in Notting Hill and all over the country need as much writings as possible to address the point made above about educating the media and funders.

    I have been involved with the Carnival since 1985 in various guises including bringing Western Union sponsorship to NHC 3 weeks before the event and also looking after the Mas bands funding when I was in the Arts Council where I also wrote the National Carnival Arts Strategy. The Notting Hill Carnival of today is very cultural diverse and whilst it boosts London’s economy still struggles for recognition in different areas.

    I just want to point out the importance of understanding the different disciplines found in the Notting Hill Carnival and the fact that, there are a lot more Carnival groups who stand out amongst other events globally and manage to attract more visitors as well as more business from a wide range of sources whilst operating all year round. Some of the examples are;
    Steel Bands: Bands such as Nostalgia, Ebony, Mangrove and Metronome operate all year round and travel the world not only representing UK but advocating for the Carnival sector. There are also other non London based bands who take part in Notting Hill operating social and business services e.g. RASPO based in Reading who run all year round workshops and regular classes all year round
    Calypsonians; Calypsonians operate all year round and also spend time running workshops and training in schools to have a more understanding of the Carnival culture. In the past their association through Arts council have produced and released Calypso albums by their members.
    Sound systems: Notting Hill is one of the few Carnivals that embraces sound systems as part of the Carnival disciplines and these spend all year round operating and saving money to put on decent appearances in Notting Hill Carnival e.g. Abashanti, Channel One, Solution Sounds, Saxon Sounds International as well as Norma Jay mentioned in the article.
    Masquerade; Apart from Mahogany mentioned in the article, Notting Hill Carnival has groups who operate all year round as businesses and education providers e.g. Paraiso School of Samba who apart from doing TV appearances and having a branch in Brazil run all year round classes and run a shop selling Samba products; Carnival Emporium who recently opened a shop front for Carnival materials, Sunshine International whom apart from being key in Liverpool Carnival, tour around the country and also started their own cafe in Brixton as a social enterprise to support carnival; Tropical Isles who have members qualified to run accredited courses and also have a shop front. Elimu Mas Band who apart from being based in an arts centre have been responsible for coordinating international participation by London groups in Malta, China and Seychelles.

    Bearing all this in mind we appeal to writers and the media to get more understanding on the Carnival world and increase awareness of its strength in community cohesion, raising financial impact of any town carnival is presented, its positive contribution to education and culture. It is crucial to also support and praise the organisations which support Carnival through funding and sponsorship especially institutions such as the Arts Council England. For London’s Notting Hill Carnival lets thank Westiminster, Kensington and Chelsea local authorities as well as other agencies that make this event happen despite all the health and safety challenges outdoor events face in this country.

    Pax Nindi FRSA

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