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Friday, 23 August, 2002, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
Change comes to Carnival
Notting Hill Carnival
The Carnival comes to a climax over bank holiday weekend

The Notting Hill Carnival has come a long way since its first incarnation in St Pancras Town Hall, London in 1959.

Founded by West Indian Gazette editor Claudia Jones, the carnival was originally set up in response to racial attacks on the black community in Notting Hill, west London.

Held in various halls until 1963, the event finally moved to the place of its inspiration in 1964, thanks to the vision of local woman Rhaune Laslett.

Around 1,000 people attended, according to police figures.

The Carnival attracts over 1.5 million visitors
The Carnival welcomes all nationalities
These days, Carnival attracts around 1.5 million people and last year, 10,000 police officers were on hand to help with crowd control and to deal with crime.

Inevitably, safety fears have been raised and last year, a review group proposed that part of the event should be moved to another location.

This has not happened yet, but the route has been altered this year to ease congestion and 80 CCTV cameras will watch out for trouble.

Notting Hill Carnival trustee Debi Gardner says that the route changes this year were a direct response to last year's review by the capital's governing body, the Greater London Authority.

She adds they have been also made in consultation with some of the event's longest-serving and most experienced stewards.

There has been criticism over the number of stewards for 2002 - the Carnival Trust has a target of 300 stewards this year, compared to around 700 last year - although only half that number actually turned up.

Police join in the Carnival fun
The police and the stewards work closely together
Fellow trustee Ansel Wong thinks that there will be enough: "We are now well under way of delivering at least 300 stewards on the day, which will, together with the Metropolitan Police, be an effective control of the crowds."

Debi Gardner also points out that last year the number was only so large because of GLA funding and before that, there had only ever been around 200 stewards every year.

"Stewards have been getting more indepth training this year, with courses in basic first aid and fire safety," she added.


The Carnival has also been dogged by stories of political infighting.

Trust member Antonn McCalla resigned recently, accusing trustees of betraying Carnival's Caribbean roots.

"I think the Carnival has suffered a poor media profile in the past but this year my impression is that things are going well and coverage has been much more positive," says Ms Gardner.

Notting Hill Carnival parade
Carnival events take place over a six week period
She feels people have been more aware of the events leading up to the culmination of the Carnival this weekend, with 1,700 people attending a Carnival Gala at the Royal Opera House last Saturday.

This year, the Carnival is officially part of the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations and a number of masquerade or Mas bands will be using the Jubilee theme as inspiration for their costumes.

During the Golden Jubilee weekend, a parade of over 2,500 revellers in colourful costumes marched down the Mall to the rhythm of a 100 strong steel band.

"It was a fantastic opportunity for the Mas band, and in fact, royalty have often had a fondness for steel bands", says Ms Gardner.

Carnival Monday
The Carnival's popularity grows and grows
Sterling Betancourt, a pioneer of steel band music, was awarded an OBE in 2001.

Ms Gardner feels the participation in the Queen's celebrations proves Caribbean culture has truly established itself in the UK and that far from abandoning its roots, the 2002 Carnival will mark a return to tradition.

She was hoping to sneak off and spend the weekend with her steel band in the parade, but having been handed an earpiece and a radio at the office this week, has resigned herself to working instead.

Carnival virgins

Every year, there are hundreds of first-time participants, and one of them this year is Michelle Cole.

"I am excited about being on the float as I feel a lot more involved in the Carnival this year, having just been one of the crowd in the past", she says.

She will be on a float with Brixton-based dance company X'Po-Zure, whose costume theme is diaspora.

X'Po-Zure enjoy the party
Another woman gearing up for the weekend is Gloria Cummins, who first became involved in Carnival in the early 70s and heads up one of the Mas bands, Flamboyan.

"The Carnival has changed with the times, it has got bigger and now lots of people get involved that would not have done a few years ago", she says.

The best thing about Carnival for her is the art and creativity involved and the sense of community it evokes.

The costumes, which were imported directly from Trinidad originally, are a crucial part of the celebrations and hours of painstaking work go into the elaborate designs.

Ms Cummins does a lot of sewing work herself, alongside her daughter and daughter-in-law.

"Everyone gets together, it is very special", she says.

Perhaps the Notting Hill Carnival motto sums up its organisers' attitude best: "Every spectator is a participant - Carnival is for all who dare to participate."

Carnival kicks off on Sunday with Children's Day, with the main event on Monday. There is full coverage in the capital on BBC London 94.9FM.

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