By Lanre Bakare /Guardian News & Media
The Notting Hill carnival is the ideal way to bring together a divided country and remember those who have been caught up in the Windrush scandal, its organisers have said.
Matthew Phillip, the carnival’s executive director, said the event – which takes place over the bank holiday weekend and is Europe’s biggest street festival – is designed to break down barriers.
“Carnival was brought to us by the Windrush generation,” he said. “It was that influx of people which created carnival in the first place.
“It was a chance for the diverse community of Notting Hill to come together and celebrate the fact that we’ve got a lot more in common with people than differences.
“That’s still relevant today.”
It also offers a chance for a country – that is at its most divided in decades, according to recent studies – to forget its differences.
“It is absolutely more important now than ever,” said Phillip. “You look around carnival and Ladbroke Grove and you see people from all walks of life celebrating and enjoying food together.
“All you’ll see is smiling faces. It brings everybody together.”
He added: “I really believe that carnival should be celebrated and highlighted and the whole nation should be proud of it.
“It puts the UK on the map for that one weekend and it highlights London as a city that’s welcoming and inclusive of all people from all walks of life.”
The event, which is celebrating its 53rd year, is estimated to bring more than £100mn to London’s economy and is the second largest carnival in the world, behind Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
One million people are predicted to attend the event, which also makes it the largest public order challenge for the Metropolitan police.
Last year the Met installed knife arches after using “Big Brother-style” facial recognition in 2017, where the system was wrong 98% of the time, according to a report by the campaign group “Big Brother Watch”.
On the Sunday of last year’s event, the Met activated a Section 60 order across the carnival area in west London after receiving intelligence, meaning stop and search powers could be enforced.
This year the arches will be used again.
Dave Musker, the Met officer in charge of the policing operation, said: “While the vast majority of carnival-goers are law-abiding, sadly a small number are intent on committing acts of violence.
“While this behaviour does form a very small part of what is on the whole a spectacular event, the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) is uncompromising in striving to maintain the safety and security of the public, and will do what is necessary and proportionate to protect those attending.”
Phillip said community stewards would again be used to “complement” the police.
He said: “Carnival is not a public order problem, it is a celebration. Many of the community stewards know the area intimately, and that local knowledge and welcome means there’s a softer feel.
“People are coming from all over the world to celebrate; we don’t want it to feel oppressive.”
The event’s green credentials have been questioned this year, and Phillip says the organisers encourage traders to consider where they are sourcing from and said there will be water points – organised in conjunction with Thames Water – so people can use refillable bottles.
“During carnival people make do and mend,” he said. “People have always recycled things in order to make their costumes and in that sense carnival has always been a green event.
“But we have an issue with the planet and we encourage people to be ecological wherever possible.”
Phillip said a proactive PR campaign, which involved telling stories of the everyday people behind carnival, has helped counteract negative press attention that focuses on crime.
“We’ve had far greater coverage of the people who make carnival – the band leaders, the sound-system leaders, the mas camps – there’s been a lot of interest in hearing the real stories. It creates a different feel.”
This year, as during the 2017 and 2018 events, there will be a 72-second silence for those killed in the Grenfell Tower fire, at 3pm today and tomorrow.
“Grenfell Tower is in our community so we feel it’s important to show our support,” said Phillip, who added that the 72 seconds represented a second for every person who died.
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