Is it all over for Notting Hill carnival?

Future of Europe’s largest outdoor festival is in doubt after organisers quit over shortage of funds and volunteers A chronic lack of funding, disagreements about the level of policing and internal disputes have put the future of the Notting Hill carnival in jeopardy after its two co-directors quit, saying the 46-year-old event has become impossible to manage, Alexandra Topping reports in London’s Guardian.

Despite attracting more than a million people over the bank holiday, Europe’s largest outdoor festival has no primary private sponsor and is largely organised by unpaid volunteers.

“It is still seen as just a Caribbean event and just not taken seriously,” said Ancil Barclay, one of the co-directors who handed in his notice this week. “Carnival has to grow up. Everyone loves carnival, but when it comes to putting the right structures in place there is a total lack of investment.”

His fellow co-director, Chris Boothman, said the carnival had been historically underfunded – run in the main by two volunteers – when events such as the Lord Mayor’s Show could expect large amounts of financial and logistical support.

“Carnival is not just a free-for-all party,” he said. “Its roots lie in celebrating the emancipation of slavery and it has high artistic values, but it is a struggle to uphold those values when it is so underfunded.” Without full-time staff with experience of lobbying, the carnival would not get the recognition it deserved, he added.

The success of this year’s carnival was seen as key to London’s image after the ravages of the riots earlier in the summer. But conflicting interests between the police, who wanted the event to finish early to avoid trouble, and masquerade bands who were concerned that they would not get around the route in time caused problems for the organisers.

“There was a sense that we were changing the event, that we were selling out,” said Barclay. “But I live in Notting Hill – I understand the balance has to be right.”

The pair announced their resignation to Kensington and Chelsea council this week as well as to partners in the Metropolitan police, City Hall, and organisers of the 2012 Olympics.

Barclay is confident the 2012 carnival will go ahead – against the backdrop of the Olympics, it would be too embarrassing to see it fail – but he fears for the future.

“Beyond 2012 it is questionable because it is so underfunded,” he said. “Most people don’t realise this whole thing has been run by two unpaid volunteers. It should be a wake-up call: if you value the Notting Hill carnival, then invest in it.”

Far from the image of a carnival community all pulling in the same direction the pair paint a picture of power plays and internal struggle. In a letter to the various authorities the two voluntary organisers wrote that after a post-carnival meeting on 21 September, “it increasingly became obvious that we had lost the level of support required to continue effectively”.

Barclay said: “Each year we have a spectacular display but behind the scenes it is dysfunctional to the core. It should be creating employment, it should be educational – it could be so much more with the proper investment.

“I hope that the next people can take it to the next level, but that is not something you can do on a voluntary basis.”

News of the organisers’ resignation is likely to throw plans for the 2012 carnival into turmoil.

“I am worried about 2012, It needs a group of people that understand the need for proper investment and support by the authorities and that is not in place,” said Boothman, a solicitor who was legal head of the now defunct Commission for Racial Equality and a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. “We’ve gone because we don’t think that, as things stand, we can do it – and frankly if we can’t, I’m not sure who can.”

Barclay said there was a lack of willingness to change the current way of working. “We need a complete restructure to make carnival fit for purpose but instead there is a power struggle between people with a lot of historical baggage.”

Ricky Belgrave, chairman of the British Association of Static Sound Systems (Bass), one of the arenas at carnival, said he was surprised at the news and said his organisation did not have a problem with the former directors.

“I’m surprised at the decision and I’m sorry they have resigned, on behalf of Bass we want to thank them for their work. Now the arenas will have to get together and talk about how we can take Carnival forward.”

Henry Bonsu, director of the digital station Colourful Radio, said the carnival desperately needed stability.

“It’s going to be very important in the future, especially in Olympic year, to find a team that understands the history of the event and has the vision to take it forward.”

The resignation of Boothman and Barclay will come as a blow to many who had welcomed the continuity they provided over the past four years.

Crime fell each year they were in charge, by 31% in 2010. The large debt that had confronted the two when Barclay came on board in 2009 – in the region of £150,000, they say – has been cleared.

Jennette Arnold, chair of the London Assembly, said the two men had gone beyond the call of duty.

“Without them, at a difficult time, there would not have been a carnival. One wonders who they are going to find to bring together all of the constituents in the way those two did.”

For the original report go to

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