The second residents meeting in regards to the state and running of the Notting Hill carnival, was held at the Tabernacle and took place on Monday 30th October 2017. As well as the general public, various correspondences were reporting the event. GetWestLondon, depicted the scenes accurately, in terms of it descending into a fracas. Understandably, emotions ran high and at times the meeting was difficult to control, with heated exchanges from pan and mas representatives, residents and many other persons attending. The vocal panel meeting members on stage were Lewis Benn London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprise Trust (LNHCET), acting Chairman. Dave Musker (Gold Commander, Met Police). Richard Gibson (Head of Events, Westminster Council). Sue – surname unknown & another name unknown (Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea representatives). However, arrogance prevailed for some LNHCHET carnival committee members, as I later learned that they all turned up late, having being relegated to the front row and not on the panel. Furthermore, noticeably absent from the meeting was the current LNHCET Chairman, Pepe Francis and it is subsequently confirmed that he has been suspended pending investigation. Chairing the meeting, was left to Lewis Benn to take the helm and face the brunt of a somewhat baying crowd.
Despite this, the main themes covered at the meeting were:
- Vision for 2018
- Present challenges (Safety & Security)
- Supporting artistic content (70% of the artistic presentation received no funding)
- Communication – engaging the community
- Funding & Financial Aid
- Crime stats
- Lessons learnt from 2017(e.g funding, crowd control, late issue of passes this year, unqualified volunteers)
These were the figures presented at the meeting and was a direct copy of what was presented to us, in terms of spending.
Dave Musker – Gold Commander, Met Police: “The “Gold” Police Commander as he liked to keep reminding us of, had announced that the costs for policing carnival over the 3 days was £7.8 million. As quoted by Dave Musker, “if carnival did not take place, we would not spend that money”. In all honesty, I felt that he wanted to say “if carnival did not take place, we would not waste that money”. Why is that there seems to be a political agenda surrounding carnival? As the Met Police Commander cited ” terrorism” as being a concern a few times.
Sue (Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea representative): Announced yet another survey is being conducted for the Notting Hill carnival, which is available at the Notting Hill Carnival 2017 Survey. She also discussed the fact that more was spent this year on toilets and cleaning and that some funding was given for the creative elements, but details not given.
Richard Gibson (Head of Events, Westminster Council): The Westminster Council representative, turned up unprepared and spent time unenthusiastically discussing the “compelling figures” as above. However, I felt that all that was compelling was the £240,000 spent on staffing. Questions were asked in regards to the breakdown of those figures and like the request for a full carnival crime statistical breakdown. We are still waiting.
Admittedly, I am still trying to work out what happened in that hour and a half meeting? What were the actual objectives of this meeting? What really did this meeting seek to resolve? As in reality, it did absolutely nothing but rile the panel members, the residents and any other observers that attended. Valid questions were asked by the varying attendees, but confusing responses ensued. In addition to that, we were informed that they missed the application for Arts Council funding for next year. Apart from that, the good news was that there are ongoing actions to improve the management of carnival going forward and particular consideration is being given to:
- Conducting a skills audit to look at the gaps.
- The fact that the community is not being fairly represented.
- A tender is being set up for an event management company to run the carnival for 2018 (yet we unaware as to the criteria for submission?)
- Communication and how it can be improved
Arguably, Lewis Benn is probably just as passionate about carnival as the rest of us carnivalists, but perhaps restricted by so many issues that it becomes difficult to get the job done and to please all. There are no excuses, as there are issues remaining on why since they took over in 2012 that we have not seen much improvement? Why is it that the important artistic content is lacking the much-needed funds? Where is the positive, strong promotion of carnival? Where is the communication? Why have we not had feedback on the fiasco with the event management company hired this year? Lots of these questions, just as in the meeting go unanswered. Although, there was a genuine concern that the emotion and approach overrode the event, and it just did not achieve the required outcome, nor did we collectively manage to articulate it very well, at times. Lewis said something quite poignant when we spoke of the heated exchanges in the meeting and he stated, ”you’re not going to suppress the passion”. However, the problem is the passion – it’s how this carnival is being run and its time for a change. The RBKC exonerate themselves from having any ties with the carnival on their website and is referred to as an “annual event” but absolutely providing no connection other than stating some funding is provided.
Despite changes to increase safety, it is still touted as being a concern, but just how many meetings do we need to resolve issues and why is safety still a major concern? In the last ten years, we have had several reviews, each review said the same thing, each one bringing in the changes that were demanded. The Carnival doesn’t need more security/police/stewarding. It needs better security. Was there not also a consultation last year which produced the results of the November 2016 survey, so why is there now a new 2017 survey?
Moreover, what do we all really know about the actual Notting Hill carnival roots? Or really has it just descended into an excuse, like for a good majority of us, to dress up, wuk up and get drunk? The very fundamental premise of the Notting Hill carnival has deep-seated roots within the West Indian community and perhaps there are a vast amount of like-minded persons who are tired of the carnival being exploited for what it is not. Carnival has become popular and being hosted on such a small section of available streets, security and safety are of paramount importance, but the planning changes each year continues to override the occasion itself. Carnival has been allowed to be starved of essential investment, publicity and there is an inherent lack of respect for what it represents. So what has happened to our carnival and why has it descended into the throes of anarchy, whispers of misappropriation and a perceived lack of overall management? Change is needed in so many respects, but in particular to the way that carnival is publicised, adequately funded and ensuring safety for all. I feel that many young people see carnival as a street rave, or an excuse for the masses to get very drunk over the Bank Holiday and misbehave in the streets – rather than coming to enjoy, observe and participate in a very special, cultural event. Why do we not bring carnival back to it roots and educate the people that come to this annual event, to be given the chance to understand why it exists and why it is so important to the West Indian community.
Lastly, what is important to recognise is that the general perspective of this current carnival committee is that they are not entrusted to run the carnival. Carnival is not an event, it is, and should be a National Heritage, regarded and treasured as such as a remembrance celebration of the emancipation and freedom from slavery. We earned that right to have it regarded as such. Support should be given by the various councils for the carnival to be funded properly and respectfully. Perhaps that is what we need to do and that is fighting to have it enshrined as a national treasure, ensuring this annual tradition is protected and stays on the streets of Notting Hill.