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Black History Month and the future of Notting Hill Carnival

Updated: 5 days ago

As all the activities – music, movies, books, art and all others – marking Black History Month wind down, we want to pause and reflect on the future of one of the UK’s most exuberant expressions of black culture, the Notting Hill Carnival.

This year’s carnival held from August 27-29 and was attended by over two million revelers. Taking stock post-carnival, it was noted that 308 arrests were made for offences that ran the gamut from sexual assault to drug and weapon possession as well as attacks on police officers.

A female PC was reportedly assaulted sexually while eight people were stabbed in what the Met said was the highest level of stabbings at the carnival since 2016.

These statistics have led to calls for the carnival to be moved from its traditional home in the Westminster Council and Kensington and Chelsea areas.

But views vary and the opinions captured below by the BBC are reflective of conflicting outlooks:

  • While some described having a “fantastic time” at the 2023 carnival others noted that there were isolated incidents comparable to other large-scale events.

  • The Metropolitan Police Federation said on social media: "Once again Notting Hill Carnival marred by serious violence - and attacks on Police Officers. 75 of our colleagues assaulted. Six bitten. One sexually assaulted. One in hospital. This is absolutely disgusting. No wonder our members dread policing this event."

  • Leroy Logan, a former Met superintendent and founding chair of the Black Police Association, said the violence experienced at the carnival was comparable with football matchdays. "If the federation wants it moved, then they have to come up with a stronger argument around the number of assaults," Mr Logan said” while noting that "proper safeguards" and better community policing would reduce risks at the event.

  • Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ade Adelekan, who oversaw the policing operation, said: "Nobody disputes the significance of carnival on London's cultural calendar and the overwhelming majority of those who came will have had a positive experience. However, we cannot overlook the stabbings, sexual assaults, and attacks on police officers that we have seen.”

According to the same BBC report, Susan Hall, who has been selected as the Tories' 2024 London mayoral candidate suggested the carnival could be held in a park.

A September 7 meeting convened by carnival organisers, the Carnival Village Trust to address the issues and discuss the future of the carnival is said to have led to heated debates.

Some attendees agreed with Ms. Halls and suggested a move to Hyde Park, an idea that was countered by the organisers who pushed back on the idea according to a report in The Independent.

“The Notting Hill Carnival belongs on the streets of Notting Hill and moving it will not eliminate the issues our community suffered this year.”

They added that “The calls for the event to be moved from its home are from a very small minority. We welcome their feedback, but their suggestions do not represent the vast majority of those who attend, the local residents, us as organisers, the local councils, GLA or our partners in the emergency services.”

The BBC also reports that “Symone Williams, whose father was a founding member of the carnival in the 1960s, said moving Notting Hill Carnival out of the neighbourhood would "end a historical event". She said if the event was taken out of Notting Hill, "then it's no longer Notting Hill Carnival. That makes no sense".

Image credit: Getty Images

The BBC quoted a spokesman for London Mayor Sadiq Khan as saying that “the event was "born out of the Caribbean community in north Kensington and Notting Hill" and that this should "remain its home".”

The arguments regarding Notting Hill as the home of the carnival are interesting because the first ‘Caribbean Carnival’ which was, in many ways, the precursor of the carnival was not held in Notting Hill but "further down the road on 30 January 1959 in the St Pancras town hall."

The Mayor of London has been criticised for being soft on the issues of violence that continue to mar the carnival.

Kim Marsh, the vice chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents the capital's cops, told The Times: "How is it that the police, every August Bank Holiday weekend, rock up and have dozens assaulted? Tell me anywhere in the world where that happens.

"Unfortunately, we have a mayor [Sadiq Khan] who tells everyone it [the carnival] is amazing, is the footprint of London and everyone needs to accept it, full stop.”

As disparate opinions are expressed, what is not in dispute is that the carnival will remain a fixture on London’s culture calendar and organisers must find creative ways to ensure that the issues around criminality, crowd control, and sanitation are addressed.

A key issue that will determine the future of Notting Hill Carnival is sustainability. In a world increasingly apprehensive about environmental issues, eco-friendly practices should be at the heart of the organization of the carnival.

Calls for more toilets to be provided should be heeded, gates to adjoining exits should not be locked to facilitate crowd control and policing must be enhanced to reduce incidents of criminality and violence.

After the 2023 carnival, the Kensington & Chelsea Council reported that 300 tonnes of rubbish were swiftly removed from the streets by a team of 200 cleaners supported by 30 refuse trucks and sweepers over Monday night. That haul included 13 tonnes of laughing gas canisters highlighting the scale of the problem.

As the organisers noted in their statement to The Independent “There are many challenges when organising an event of this scale... the feedback we receive from these regular meetings... helps us address these issues and work toward a resolution in forthcoming years.”

As those challenges are addressed with all views considered the Notting Hill Carnival will no doubt retain its place as the UK’s most vibrant and exuberant celebration of Caribbean culture and without a doubt, one of the world's largest street festivals.

As the future beckons the hope is that it will continue to evolve reflecting topical and contemporary concerns that impact the participants, residents, and the government.


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