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Bristol Post
Bristol Post
Louisa Streeting

St Pauls Carnival organisers speak out on bright future for event

This week, St Pauls Carnival announced it will be making a full return to the streets of Bristol including the first Carnival Day in three years. In the weeks prior to Carnival, set for July 1, 2023, there will be a string of fringe events to mark 75 years since the HMT Empire Windrush arrived in Great Britain as well as 60 years since Bristol's Bus Boycott.

Each Carnival celebration is different across the UK and the world, but there is a uniqueness about St Pauls Carnival in the way it works to incorporate all of the voices and experiences of the community. LaToyah McAllister-Jones, executive director of St Pauls Carnival, recalled her first-ever Carnival experience in Notting Hill as a child.

"The experience of that as an eight-year-old blew my mind," she said. "Forty years later here I am and that to me is the impact of Carnival. Young people who are inspired by Carnival and able to become part of the community.

Read more: St Pauls Carnival 2023 announces full return to mark Windrush and Bristol's Bus Boycott

"It’s a unique celebration of cultural life and I think all carnivals have a golden thread that runs through them wherever they are. Carnival develops in the place that it is so the migration story in Bristol is culturally and heavily Jamaican so our carnival has that Jamaican flavour and the soundsystems are integral to how we deliver it. Those things are really important and unique to St Pauls."

Bristol's Carnival in St Pauls has always worked under the model of working with the community and involving the voices of the Elders in the plans since it first started in 1968. Every year, Carnival organisers have hosted Elders breakfasts to celebrate their vital contributions as well as to thank sponsors.

(Jon Kent)

This year's theme 'Learning from Legends' builds from the organisation's increased work with the Elders community. When Carnival was forced to go online in 2020 due to the pandemic with 'Spirit Up!' - an 11-hour live-streamed event - LaToyah and her team realised that many elderly people were unable to connect with it due to having no means to go online.

LaToyah added: "We worked with St Monica Trust to develop community engagement programmes around digital inclusion and wellbeing as we know that isolation and those types of issues have a real impact on mental health. The project was about digital inclusion and the wellbeing aspect which is critically important to how many of us got through that pandemic."

St Pauls Carnival was a registered charity between 2010 and 2018. It was deregistered from charity status due to its inactivity between 2014 and 2018 - which at the time St Pauls Carnival said was down to challenges caused by organising such a large scale event that's free for the community. It was established as a community interest company in 2017.

Ben Philpotts has recently joined the organisation as Head of Commercial Development, who has a background in brand development “with a political leaning balanced with a social conscience”. He explained that a lot has changed with organising Carnival post-pandemic. "It’s going to be the first Carnival day since 2019," he began.

"During those years carnival itself, and it’s trying to transmit that it is a community interested company now it’s not a charity but it’s not a limited company. The pinnacle is carnival day and we have our Arts Council funding because we are an arts organisation but we also need commercial funding too.

"Our Arts Council funding only covers half of the costs of Carnival Day itself let alone all of the new Carnival 365 initiatives, our education programmes and all of these different things. There is much more to Carnival than just that one day. However, that one day requires a huge amount of organisation too."

children at carnival (Ben Birchall)

The organisation estimates that St Pauls Carnival 2023 will cost around £450,000 to run the celebrations, excluding core costs. A total of £219,000 has already been secured from Arts Council England, which will only cover half of the costs of Carnival Day itself.

Ben continued: "With the funding, it is trying to open up those different avenues to explore. We’re looking for sponsors, obviously, so we’re looking for commercial companies, corporate companies that offer corporate social responsibility programmes."

Speaking on what is the essence of Carnival, he added: "It is very much celebrating and understanding what that community interest is and it is St Pauls, its African Caribbean culture. It’s what Carnival brings - the black joy, the music, the arts, the fashion., every element of the literature."

Those who are able to can make a donation towards the events alongside Carnival 365's programme through the St Pauls Carnival website.

St Pauls Carnival 2023 returns on June 22, with Carnival day set for July 1

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