I’m here to talk to you about the golden years of carnival in Southend. What do you know about Southend?
Very long pier.
Mods and rockers.
From the 60s. You weren’t there the day the local police took all the boot laces out and put them on the beach, and then invited them to go home when they wanted to go home.
Kursaal Fairground, and the new one.
Yes that’s it.
Rather than be really biased and put my own views up here, I took some things off Wikipedia:
As people said, Southend is a coastal town; some people would debate that because it’s on the Thames Estuary, right down in the bottom of Essex.
The pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world, but is currently shut at the moment because yet another boat has run into it.
We have a 10 mile long beach and promenade, did you know that?
Up until 1970 we had illuminations as big as Blackpool.
The BBC programme Eastenders; if you watch it regularly, you’ll notice that when characters leave the programme they go to live with relatives in Southend or Leigh-on-Sea.
And obviously key to what we’re doing today it’s had a carnival for over 100 years. We thought it had started in 1905, but the work Julie and Lowell [? 1:45] from the Southend team have done is starting to point us to 1895, which is quite interesting. We’ve got a 10 year gap that nobody knew about.
Why do you think carnival started in Southend? There was a lot of talk about that in the first two or three sessions this morning, the start of carnival. In Southend it was purely fundraising for the hospital. If you look at carnivals, mostly seaside carnivals in Britain, they all have a link back to some element of fundraising for hospitals, or stuff like that. If you think, we’re talking around 1905, we have no NHS, so all the hospitals, and some of the treatment, is funded by local contribution, and in Southend that was done through the carnival. You’ll find, when you start looking at it, that the offices for the carnival were based in the hospital, it was that close to the organisation.
The subject is, ‘The Golden Years of Carnival’, and one of the golden years we know a lot about is 1938. So by 1938 carnival in Southend was the key event in the town; carnival is still a key event in Southend but it’s not as key. To give it its status at that point, in national terms, it has the equivalent status to what Notting Hill has today. This is the size Southend carnival was.
It was attracting over 100,000 people to the carnival procession, on a Wednesday afternoon, remembering that most shops closed on a Wednesday afternoon, most businesses closed on a Wednesday afternoon at that time.
The procession would take 3 hours to pass, with 6,000 participants.
The route was 6.4 miles. I know a lot about carnivals in Essex, and quite a lot about carnival just outside of Essex, and I know from emails I get from bands, marching bands, 2.4 miles is the maximum they’re going to do today. 6.4 is some distance.
It had an organising committee of 150. How do we know that, we have the programme for the 1938 carnival, and I know you can’t see it, but those two pages are the lists of names of all the people that did the organising.
It used 4,000 volunteers to run the event. I mean how we would like to get 4,000 volunteers.
Over 7 days they did 17 different events with those 4,000 volunteers. There was a dance every night at a different dance hall, or temporary location, with one of the big dance bands from the UK at that time.
The event was covered by film crews. There’s lot of evidence on Pathé News and other news websites. This recording of Southend Carnival goes right through to the 1960s where the BBC has got a lot of pictures and film, where they used to run it on the 6 o’clock news. Very much like Notting Hill is today that’s where Southend sat.
Reports appeared on national newspapers.
In 1938 the main sponsor was Heinz, the baked bean people. People in Southend were building floats, so this was the one the big companies wanted to have a float in and then they’d take them to other carnivals. Quite a lot of the floats that were in 1938 Southend Carnival were then in the Easter Parade at Battersea the next year.
Was it happening in August?
This all happens in the autumn. It moves between August and September, but it’s all around that time.
Could you just say when the motivation for fundraising stopped?
The motivation stopped in 1947 with the forming of the NHS. Carnival in Southend was all around raising money for the local hospital, equipment, running costs, and everything else, and that continued through to 1947 when the NHS started.
In 1947 the Carnival Association set itself new targets about raising money for the community, and between 1947 and 1951 bought land, which is now valued at £1.5 million, and built 19 houses for the elderly poor for the borough. So as well as running Southend Carnival we also run those as well, but they’re a separate Trust, but if you’re elected in one you become part of another. Being Chair of one Trust I’m automatically Chair of the other. We still put money into that every year, and we still put money into the community. I’ll talk a bit more about that later.
Do you have a lot of sponsors still?
We’ve never managed to get Heinz back on, and even though my son works for one of the biggest ad agencies in the country, I can’t convince him to get one of his clients to sponsor us. We have actually changed the model we operate to a business model, so we do commercial activity, and also last year we were very successful in getting a local sponsor, so we have a local sponsor on a 4 year deal now.
Why is carnival important to Southend? This is what the Mayor said about 1938, ‘other than being the largest and the best, it’s still one of the famous.’ We’ve got copies of programmes here, you can flick through them, and the Mayors have a similar sort of message. This year’s Mayor is promoting this project. He sees this project in Southend as so important that he’s promoting it with all the schools he goes into, all the groups he speaks to.
We have a memories book we’re collecting, it’s at the back there, and you can read what the Mayor wrote in there. It’s all about him in 1950 coming third in the beautiful toddler’s competition, and his mum told him it was because he had curly hair, ‘to win the beautiful toddlers you’ve got to have straight hair.’ He was talking about this project at on a meeting on the Friday, explaining what he’d written in the memories book, and during the tea and coffee, where people come up and approach the Mayor, this guy approached him and said, ‘I won first prize and I had the straight hair’!
So yes it’s seen as very important today, it’s seen as very important to Southend, and that’s why we were able to get the current Mayor of Southend on-board, and he’s promoting this project in every possible way he can.
Going back to 1938 and why it was important, it was the only event in town. This was the only time the community came together, you didn’t get 4 weeks leave, you got odd days, you didn’t get the type of leave we have now. It brought money and people into the town; we are a seaside resort, it was very important at that time, in the 1930s, and it’s even more important now.
It brought the town automatic national publicity. We’ve been given a film by East Anglian Archive of a 1962 promotional film with Johnnie Morris doing the commentary; it lasts 15 minutes, and out of those 15 minutes about 4 minutes is dedicated to carnival, so even in the 60s it was seen as key.
Carnival brought the community together. In the 30s, 40s and 50s, every organisation took part. If you wanted to be seen you were there. There was that chance of getting on the BBC news that week, getting your product there, and there were a number of national organisations based in the town at that time. This profile was maintained from the mid-30s, through the 40s, 50s and into the 60s. It was only into the 60s where perhaps carnival wasn’t as cool; perhaps it was more difficult to take part.
At the back there we’ve been given 400 black and white photographs, we’ve brought most of them with us, of the 1968 carnival. It rained. We do a street collection, and there is a story, and true it is I don’t know. Tarnival was run by Councillors and Alderman’s in an Association, and that one year when it rained they needed to dry the money, I don’t know if you know but you can’t take wet money to a bank, and the local crematorium was open for them to dry the money! How true it is I don’t know.
I think Pat when you were here doing the interviews everybody you spoke to had a story to tell you about carnival, and that’s what the project team are finding. It doesn’t matter where they go, when they say they’re working on this project for carnival, they will have a story.
I did a presentation for Community-in-Harmony, which is bringing together the different mix of the town together, because we have a very high Polish and Nigerian community now. I did this presentation, and as you do talk after coffee, and this guy came up and said, ‘I came from the Caribbean in the 60s to drive buses in London, we had a day off, we came to Southend and it was carnival; that’s why I live here.’ Our staff in Southend, Julie and Lowell [?], are really getting so much information coming to them.
We were talking about how much money we’ve put back into the community, since 1926 in real terms, so that’s converted for all the different inflation factors, it’s £10 million we’ve put back into the community, in terms of grants, and we still do that. It works in our favour to continue to do that sort of activity, because it brings us so many discounts and stuff we can utilise to keep the event going.
What’s really important to the town now is what spend does it bring in, and carnival day in Southend brings in around £3 million in extra spend. If we didn’t have carnival on that day the spend would be this, because we have carnival on that day, that’s people buying ice-creams, coffee, tea, whatever, going down the pier, going into Adventure Island, so that’s why it’s still important to Southend. The difference in Southend now is that there’s an event every week righ throughout the summer, so we’re really up for in competition.
A quiz, a couple of questions, we still do a street collection, and I’ll tell you now we collect the same amount now as we did in the 60s, it fluctuates around £1,000, it goes up and down by a £1,000, but it never goes higher and it never goes lower; and how many took part on Wednesday 2012?
Anybody want to guess how much in weight?
6 [? 14:34].
The previous group said 500 and 100; 8 tonnes. What we used to do with the street collection is we’d have a church hall, we’d have 150 come in, count it, ring up the bank and say, when I first started in carnival 20 years ago, ‘we’ve got 8 tonnes of coin for you’, ‘oh bring it along …’ they’d tell us when to bring it. You can’t do that now. 250lbs a week is the maximum we can put into the bank. Our street collection varies between £7,000 and £8,000 each year, predominantly 1p and 2p coins.
We continue to reinvest that back into the community. Last year’s carnival we’ve invested in part of a new lifeboat house. We also do inward investment into the groups that help us, so we rely a lot on Lions and the Rotary Club, so we’ll invest back into them as well. For their time and effort we’ll give them a donation towards their own group or their charity.
So the answer to how many people took part was 2,800, 70 groups. This is still the majority tableau type entries with groups of people. We do have Rampage, and we do have one or two carnival arts organisations in the town, but you can see the tableau type things we get down there.
It takes about an hour to go past any point on the route. We do 2.4 miles, it’s totally flat, they’ve taken the speed humps out, they spent £7 million taking the speed humps out to reorganise the seafront. It actually reduced our costs; it was really good, because our risk assessment said we didn’t have to have metal barriers all the way through that area now because they’ve taken all the restrictions out.
It’s still a big community event.
As somebody mentioned at the front, it normally happens in August, this year it doesn’t, it’s come forward to the 23rd of June, and the reason is that Southend has got an Olympic event just nearby. When we would normally have the carnival is the Olympic event, so we wouldn’t get the permissions. So it’s actually gone into a huge new event in Southend, which is all around, ‘Come and Try’. It’s all about getting people back engaged with their community, so they’re going to get the opportunity to try all sorts of sport activities, sailing, you’ll be able to go down the pier and put a wiggly worm on a metal hook and try fishing. It’s a really exciting event. I would say it’s really exciting because I’m Chair of the community board putting it on.
We’re moving for the first time outside of the window, it’s always been in August and early September, and that’s quite an interesting challenge for us.
That’s all I’ve got say about carnival. I’m happy to take questions, but we’ve got lots of ‘Come and Try’ type activities. There are some videos and pictures at the back; there are some jigsaws we use with the schools with pictures. These are all things that the archive team in Southend have developed to deal with this, to do with the project. The reason we’ve got them all to hand is because this is how we did the launch of the project in Southend on Monday. We had all these adults doing jigsaws, looking at pictures and writing things down. The memories book with the Mayor’s memories and stuff is at the back there, and the pictures.
I’m happy to take questions.
How much does it cost?
It costs us roughly £40,000, but then £30,000 of that cost is translated back into our business income, our commercial activity, so we have to raise the £10,000. Last year we were very successful with small grant applications and a commercial sponsorship deal.
Does that include all the security?
How much money do you give to charity?
Although we’re a voluntary organisation we’re running on commercial terms, so we’re actually topping our reserves up, because we think next year’s going to be even more difficult than this year, so we put £5,000 into our reserves and we gave about £8,000 back out.
What are your commercial activities?
We run a funfair, which is our main commercial generator, but we’re also now doing a lot of things where we will front something, bring together a number of organisations, do the bid, and put a management charge in there and stuff like that. We also do street trading and stuff like that, but our main commercial activity is around running the funfair. We’ll take £20,000 out of that for 7 days.
I might have missed it, but how much do you collect in the street collection?
Between £7,000 and £8,000.
Do you get any support from people like the Arts Council?
Same as Bridgwater.
We’ve just given up with that. This is the second project we’ve done with UKCCA and that’s where we see our …… what we’ve done for the last 2 or 3 years is build our reputation again, and what we’re finding, for example having brought this project to Southend with UKCCA, we’re now talking to the Council about 3 years fixed charges, what can we do for the next 3 years to maintain our levels, and things like that. Raise the profile and then work it. It’s all around raising your profile and then that brings with it some benefits. Do you come from Bridgwater?
No I used to work here and had that contact with Bridgwater.
Bridgwater have done some really good stuff on the commercial side now, in fact they’re trying to sell us products.
They had problems with getting grants.
How much did the 8 tonne equate to?
Between £7,000 and £8,000 in 2p and 1p coins. We’ve actually tried to persuade people, subliminally, to give us silver.
If you notice the banners they’ve got silver on it. We have a marketing company who are one of our sponsors, and they’ve been advising us how to try and change the mix. These were done 2 years ago and you can see the mix between copper and silver is different. The PR we did last year all had silver on it, and we saw the silver collection go up.
The problem is in Southend it’s a tradition to collect your pennies all year and bring them to the carnival. I mean my mum’s 83 and she’s still got a jar on the side that she collects all her pennies and then she’ll hand them to me to take to the carnival. You talk to people in Southend, that’s what they do, but it’s a nightmare for us.
What’s the new weight of the coins?
If it’s silver there’s no restriction on what you can take to the bank. Even if we could get everybody to put 5p coins in rather than 1p and 2p coins then there’s no restriction on us taking that to the bank.
Thank you very much for your time.
Recording ends 23:27 minutes