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Joy as Notting Hill Carnival returns to streets of London after 3 years

On Sunday and Monday of this bank holiday weekend, carnival goers returned to the West London streets as the Notting Hill Carnival returned for the first time since 2019, before the pandemic.

The main adult parade took place on Monday, with performers and bands covering the streets of neighbourhoods spanning Notting Hill, Westbourne Park and Ladbroke Grove.

The Carnival attracted crowds of an estimated 2.5 million people, providing an estimate economic benefit of £93 million each year to London. It is the second largest carnival in the world, second only to the Rio de Janeiro Carnival.

Amidst the celebration, food, music and dancing there were some more sombre moments, including a 72-second silence to remember the 72 victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. Likewise, the chief executive of the carnival, Matthew Phillips expressed concern over how the cost of living crisis has affected the event.

Carnival trustee Linnett Kamala said: “It is a free event but there’s absolutely a cost to all of us involved in terms of materials, equipment hire, and storage hire,” she said.

“It’s been tough for all of the carnivalists, we’ve been affected by the pandemic too, but that’s not deterred us.”

What is the Notting Hill Carnival?

A community-led celebration of Caribbean history and culture, the Notting Hill carnival has, since its inception in the mid-1960s, been a staple of London’s cultural calendar. The first festival was put on by Rhaune Laslett who lived in Notting Hill and wanted to celebrate the diversity of the area.

carnival parade
Participants in the Parade at Notting Hill Carnival

Since then, the spectacle of music, dancing, food and drink has been heavily influenced by the Windrush generation.

However, it is also important to note that the carnival is also grounded in the history of London’s racial tensions. Political activist and broadcaster Darcus Howe said: “If there weren’t race riots in Notting Hill, I don’t believe that we would have had the Notting Hill Carnival. If it wasn’t for the murder of Kelso Cochrane, Carnival wouldn’t have happened.”

Kelso Cochrane was a 32 year old, Antiguan man who was killed in Notting Hill in 1959 in a racially motivated attack. With over 1200 attendees of his funeral, the murder had a huge impact on race relations, with a lacklustre investigation into the murder prompting the then Home Secretary Rab Butler to launch a public inquiry into race relations.

In an effort to ease racial tensions in the area in the aftermath, local resident and community activist Rhaune Laslett organised a children’s street fair, saying: “We felt that although West Indians, Africans, Irish and many other nationalities all live in a very congested area, there is very little communication between us. If we can infect them with a desire to participate, then this can only have good results.”

Over the years, this fair grew into what is now Notting Hill Carnival.

Final Thought

Given this history, it is particularly upsetting, but perhaps depressingly unsurprising that much media coverage of the event seems tinged by thinly veiled racism.

With 200 arrests made at an event attended by around 2 million people (0.01%), it seems ludicrous that it garners the attention it does. With teenagers dying each year at festivals such as Reading and Leeds from taking drugs, and tents being set on fire, one is left wondering what is leading to the difference in coverage.

While calls to shut down the carnival seem pronounced after the tragic death of Takayo Nembhard, it is rarely if ever the case that similar calls are heard when teenagers die drug-related deaths at Leeds, Reading, Glastonbury and other festivals.

Some complain about the strain on police resources, but will make no mention of the estimated £48 million it costs to police professional football matches in England and Wales each year.

The idea that it is a problem unique to Notting Hill Carnival rather than large events in general is non-sensical. But as old videos are circulated on social media claiming to depict violence during Notting Hill Carnival, there seems to be a clear angle to much of this conversation.

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