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Saturday, 25 August, 2001, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Keeping the carnival spirit alive
Notting Hill Carnival
Carnival time: Celebrating multi-cultural Britain
By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas

Last minute adjustments to floats and costumes are under way ahead of Sunday and Monday's 37th Notting Hill Carnival - the biggest street party in Europe.

But behind the excitement, many people inside and outside Notting Hill's west London community harbour concerns about the outcome of the two-day event.

Last year's carnival was billed as the biggest and best yet, set to attract more than two million revellers.


The success of the carnival demonstrates to the whole world that London is... a living, changing, modern city

Ken Livingstone

But when two people were murdered, with many more victims of crime, serious questions were raised about the carnival's future.

Many sections of the community had already been warning changes were necessary.

Crime and overcrowding had been issues for a number of years.

The police, residents and local government came together to discuss issues from the carnival's route to stewarding.

Notting Hiill Carnival
The parade route becomes severely congested
Some were resolved, others still hang in the balance.

But the overriding opinion was that the Notting Hill Carnival - with its spirit of celebration of, not just Afro-Caribbean culture, but life in general - was worth saving.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone set up a Carnival Review Group.

Mr Livingstone is a firm supporter of the carnival.

"Not only does it give London the chance to enjoy a free party - it is a significant contribution to Britain's international image," he said.


In Rio the carnival has become a rich commercial event - it excludes the poorer people for whom it was first intended

President, Foundation of European Carnival Cities
"The success of the carnival demonstrates to the whole world that London is not just rich in history and heritage, but it is also a living, changing, modern city."

Mr Livingstone says many review group recommendations, including more police, trained stewards and improved transport arrangements, have been acted on.

But, the main outstanding issue facing the carnival is still its route.

"The major change required remains a safer, non-circular route," said Mr Livingstone in his most recent public statement last week.

"We are fully committed to ensuring that this is implemented for next year's carnival."

The Metropolitan Police this week said the carnival had got too big for Notting Hill.

Notting Hill carnival
Notting Hill's carnival: Relatively uncommercial
"Large numbers of people in narrow streets with vehicles moving through them is not only a potentially dangerous environment but also yields numerous opportunities for crime," said a police spokesman.

Preparation

A route change along wider streets would be welcomed by the organisers of the carnival, the Notting Hill Carnival Trust (NHCT).

However, they would prefer it to remain circular to help those in the procession back to their bases.

But, unsurprisingly, they agree the event should stay.

"It's hugely important and is at the heart of Afro-Caribbean culture in the UK. It brings together the best representatives of multi-culturalism.

"But it is also about enjoying yourself and having a great time," says NHCT spokeswoman Stephanie Harwood.


The carnival has no place for trouble-makers and you can't blame it for deaths

Mike Best, The Voice
Those taking part in the procession - from dancers to Soca steel bands - must prove to the NHCT committee that they are contributing to the process of keeping Afro-Caribbean arts and culture alive.

Months of preparation go into producing the specially designed floats and costumes.

Mike Best, Editor-in-Chief of The Voice, Britain's leading black newspaper, stresses that violence is "alien" to the carnival spirit.

"The carnival has no place for trouble-makers and you can't blame it for deaths. Such behaviour is alien to Afro-Caribbean culture," he says.

However, many local residents have also complained for years about the general disruption the carnival can bring.

"Lots of people go away for the weekend because they can't lead a normal life," says Sarah Wood of local residents' magazine The Hill.

Ken Livingstone
Mr Livingstone: Hyde Park an option for future years
"Our readers write and send photos to complain about the piles of rubbish and the stench left behind."

Local businesses are also affected. Many shut up shop completely for the weekend for fear of damage to their premises.

Ironically, many of the issues facing the carnival are due to its own success. What began in the 60s as a spontaneous celebration of Afro-Caribbean culture has grown beyond recognition.

While no-one agrees on specifics, all concede that future carnivals must handle overcrowding differently.

Future years could see part of the parade take place in an enclosed open area, such as Hyde Park - one of Mr Livingstone's suggestions.

President of the Foundation of European Carnival Cities, Henry van der Kroon, agrees that changes need to be made. But he urges that Notting Hill's free spirit be preserved.

"The Notting Hill Carnival is still a spontaneous event open to everyone.

"In Rio, by contrast, the carnival has become a rich commercial event. It excludes the poorer people for whom it was first intended.

"In Notting Hill everyone can still take part, create a fantasy - and follow their dreams."

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Deputy assistant commissioner Andy Trotter
"We think this will be a safer carnival than last year"
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