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Is Notting Hill Carnival down for the count?
T&T Carnival has spawned, influenced and nurtured Carnivals globally. Today, soca and mas lovers can go to Berlin, Miami, Rotterdam and New York for Carnival celebrations.
One of the world’s most famous Caribbean Carnivals is the Notting Hill Carnival which takes place every August in London. The UK capital has embraced the street festival which is acknowledged as Europe’s largest. Every year, two million people make their way to west London for the Carnival which contributes around £93 million to the UK economy.
The festival is not without its detractors, and in recent years, the residents of Notting Hill, as well as some business owners, have been lobbying strenuously for some major changes to the Carnival like taking the parade off the street to a park like Hyde Park, banning “dirty mas” like the J’Ouvertstyled chocolate and abir mas bands. The Metropolitan Police has also spoken about the difficulty and the expense of policing the Carnival (approximately £6 million), and point to 313 arrests in 2017 for a range of offences (usually unconnected to the actual mas band parade).
The T&T Guardian spoke with three mas exponents of T&T heritage who are involved in the production of Notting Hill Carnival for a view on the future of the festival. In Part One, we feature an interview with Chris Boothman, a former director of Notting Hill Carnival Limited. Chris Boothman has been involved in Notting Hill Carnival since the early 70s; initially with sound systems, then later as a pan player and masquerader in various bands. He was also an advisor to the Carnival Board on policing issues in the early 1980’s, a member of the Mayor’s Review of Notting Hill Carnival 2000, and subsequently an Independent member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. He was also involved in the running of London Notting Hill Carnival and it’s board as company secretary and director for about five years.
The Londonbased attorney contends there are many mitigating forces that can impact Notting Hill Carnival in the future despite many positives of the festival.
“It’s fair to say there is a widespread belief that the future of the event is seriously at risk because of management challenges which the current Carnival board appears to be incapable of addressing,” said Boothman.
“This is the case because if you objectively examine nearly every significant performance indicator the management of the event is failing.”
Sponsorship, funding, income generation and re-branding are but a few of the challenges facing the event said Boothman.
Others include public safety, communications and public relations, financial management, governance, credibility and standing, and regulation in terms of effective action being taken against individuals and bands that break the law.
Whether Notting Hill Carnival benefits the Caribbean community, Boothman said: “It’s become increasingly difficult to identify how the event benefits the Caribbean community at all.
A study conducted some years ago by the London Development Agency estimated that Notting Hill Carnival generated £93 million annually. However, while there is no doubt that a few individuals from the Caribbean community reap relatively small financial benefits from the event, the vast majority of the real benefit goes to businesses in the host community. This is because nearly all the financial benefits are spin-offs that go to businesses in and around London. Further very little if any of the income generated is put back into the event. Unlike some cities like Miami, Rotterdam, Berlin there is no local tax.
“Caribbean-styled Carnivals like Notting Hill Carnival have generated off-shoots and generally raised the profile and popularity of the art form throughout Europe and worldwide but this has not translated into income or other benefit to the event.”
Asked if there is any tangible synergy between T&T and Caribbean Carnivals and Notting Hill Carnival Boothman said: “Notting Hill Carnival has always had a synergy with Trinidad Carnival because many of the original pioneers of the event were Trinis involved in Carnival from back home. Further there have always been some personal links with organisations in Trinidad like PanTrinbago, Tuco and the Mas Association.
“However, the synergy has arguably never really been capitalised upon by Trinbago, the other Caribbean governments or the relevant carnivals. Although the Barbados Tourist Board in the UK should be given credit for persistently trying to use Notting Hill and other European carnivals to promote Cropover, Bajan soca artistes and rum.
“But, historically the synergy with NH Carnival has mainly benefitted individual UK-based promoters and artistes from Trinidad and Tobago.
“Because of the shrinking Caribbean community in London and the lack of active involvement by Caribbean governments, the Notting Hill Carnival is currently being put under pressure by agencies representing other communities (Africa, Brazil etc) seeking to take it over or exert increasing influence over it. Its cultural relevance is also being questioned in the struggle for scarce resources and competing interests.”
Notting Hill Carnival continues to be under increasingly harsh political and security restrictions, elements which do not redound to the benefit of the festival. “Today Notting Hill Carnival remains the most heavily policed event in Europe despite the fact that it has moved on from its troubled past,” said Boothman. “This is in part due to the politics around the event and fact that the police appear to use NH Carnival to test and develop new public order strategies and equipment.
“The current physical space allocated for Notting Hill Carnival by the authorities has shrunk considerably relative to the attendance figures and the space reserved by the policing operation. The resultant congestion and pressure from rich residents has lead to calls for the Carnival to be moved off the streets and into a park.
“The change options have limited public support and it would take a brave politician to openly force change because of the electoral implications. If there is any significant public safety incident at the event politically it will be difficult for the event to continue.”
Asked if the Notting Hill Carnival board is strong and progressive, and empowered to take the festival forward, Boothman said: “The current Carnival board is believed by nearly all the relevant stakeholders to be hopelessly weak and incapable of overcoming the challenges necessary to enable the event to safely survive and flourish.
“In my view this is mainly because the current governance model is flawed. The board is chaired and dominated by people who currently lead the existing Carnival associations and also individual bands within Carnival. For example the current chairman of the Carnival board, is also the chairman of the Steelband Association and runs the most successful steelband in the UK.
“The other observation I would make is that the board has consistently failed to attract people of the high calibre required to lead a large internationally recognised cultural festival ie talented people with a proven track record of success who are equipped to conduct tough negotiations with the police and government officials as well as with community leaders, carnivalists and residents.”
Claiming not have the support of the chairmen of the Carnival Arts associations or even appropriate backing from the local authorities and police to take our plans for change forward, Boothman resigned in 2011.
About the future of Notting Hill Carnival, Boothman said: “A new group of individuals from the Caribbean community has recently come into being to try and hold the Carnival board accountable for the difficulties that have emerged.”
• CONTINUES NEXT WEEK