Northampton Town is the largest town in Europe that’s not a city, that’s quite interesting. It was part of the shoe industry that’s quickly faded, we’ve probably got three decent shoe factories left; Kinky Boots, the film, was made in Northampton, our claim to fame; and the other thing it had were clothes factories as well, so between shoes and clothes there were two really good industries happening. As we’ve looked at some of our old archiving and seen the quantity of material that was on some of the costumes way back in the 40s and 50s, you can understand where the industry was at the time.
We’ve had a carnival for over 100 years. There is a huge argument about our carnival; our archivist is doing some work. It was a bikers’ carnival when I came to Northampton in 73, the bikes were right at the front, and I seem to remember something about a steam rally. However, it was with great interest that we opened the Chronicle and Echo one day to read that a steam rally has been renovated and they were hoping to front the Northampton Carnival with it, and we thought, oh that’s interesting, didn’t know about you. Have you seen steam rollers, there’s no way they’re going to front our carnival with our paved areas and things, they’ll break everything. It was interesting, so we’re doing some research now to see who’s being truthful, the bikers or the steam rollers. I think we’re going to find that it’s a mixture of the two.
We lost our carnival, lots of things happened, it faded, people didn’t volunteer to take part, there were issues, financial issues that were happening, and, therefore, that’s what happened, it just ceased. Then in 2004 a friend and I were sitting outside a conference we weren’t enjoying very much and decided, why has Northampton not got a carnival, it is years since we had a carnival, and she challenged me to bring it back. It was just folly, it was a September day, and I decided to railroad some people into restarting it.
The interesting thing is it became predominantly black, the people I railroaded, we had white colleagues but it was predominantly black, and that created its own problems for the community. It wasn’t a Caribbean carnival, although we’ve said this in our prospectus kind of thing, that it’s got a Caribbean flavour. Our biggest challenge was how to engage the community as a whole.
We took the challenge that, after bringing it back in 2005, we would find those hard to reach communities and build it. Rather than go out and find ten new communities in 2006 / 07 we would build it over a period of time. We’ve found this really useful, and we would advise people, if they’re going down any route of anything about carnival, to build it, because that, wham, bam, here I am kind of thing lends itself to a bit of failure, you get them and then they’re not there anymore, so that was our major challenge.
We had to learn about our communities, that was our first task. That was very good for Merle and I because we worked with a local authority, Merle still does I’ve retired, and we got to know and understand the groups that were around, who was it, who were there, who were these people, and we started selecting groups. It was open to everybody but we definitely dived and anticipated the groups we wanted.
After 3 years we started targeting travellers, so after carnival 2007 that community became a target. It took us 3 years, they had to come see, and things happen in communities that again was a huge challenge.
We had a good friend who worked with that community, and there are things about different communities, not just travellers, when events happen, where they happen, who’s taking part in the event, you know all these things; if there’s a death in the community the whole traveller community go, there’s not a question about it.
There’s a very similar issue in Northampton in the black community, if there’s a funeral the whole community has to go, and if, like me, you’re an ex-teacher you’re expected to go, even if you just know the person because you happened to meet them at a dance 20 odd years ago.
So with the travellers we knew there were different challenges, and we knew we had to approach it in a multitude of ways, so that was our target. There was a big learning curve. There are lots of facts about them, and again if you’re going after a hard to reach group sort of try and think that you know something about where they’re coming from, because you’re wanting them to go on a journey and you need their support in this journey, so it does help if you’re sharing a bit of information.
I knew some of this because I’d worked with children, but it’s when they arrived in the country, 1505, they’ve been travelling for a long time, you know circus, so you’ve got circus families. People wanted fortune tellers at our carnival, they criticise travellers otherwise but, ‘I think somebody with a caravan that’s going to tell fortunes’, maybe, maybe not, I don’t know, let’s get them there first, let’s try year 1. There’s been a lot of persecution as well when they arrived, different groups arriving at different times, so hang on to that information because these groups are bringing different skills.
We began to engage with this community, as I say we’re very lucky we had a colleague who, interestingly enough a black colleague, was working with travellers in education, so she sort of opened the door, and they were like, ‘yes but we don’t know that lady’, you know, ‘we don’t know the carnival group, we’ll have to get to know them a bit better.’ We also engaged a white colleague who was a health visitor and she sort of got to know them.
One year, 2009, we came very close to it, but it didn’t work for whatever reason, there were other things happening and they didn’t feel comfortable. There had been a lot of racism against the traveller community. We have to remember they are a named group that the Race Equality Council acknowledges, and it doesn’t take much does it, because they were so close one year. There had been meetings about them getting another space, there had been real anti, and we had to accept that, how we were going to work around it to make sure that things worked.
Now I hope most of you are aware how artistic travellers are. I would want some of you if you’re doing carnival to do what we did, which is to engage them in a workshop. Their art-form, they were making flowers for us and within 2 minutes, the time I’ve stood here speaking to you, they’d have made 50 flowers, different shapes, different colours, with tissue paper, with toilet paper, with plastic, with whatever, really gifted. Then you look at the other things they make, if you go into riverside museums, canal museums, again very gifted. Those sorts of things you want. This year I want to see some of the designs on silk screen printing, I want to see that, that’s my want in carnival designs, but we got them to run workshops.
Some of their children attend a school; some of these are resident travellers, some move around. Most resident travellers will move to go to various fairs and the school at which a number of children attended they did a workshop there. Isn’t that lovely, a really nice introduction, that people felt, mm yes they’re okay. Even if that’s a starter for six that’s good isn’t it, that’s at least a start.
They did a lot of work for us, without us realising it. It’s only when I went to pick up some information the other day that I heard they’d been asked to go into a school to give a talk, and that’s from the carnival. They’re talking about what they do, and a couple of schools are interested to know when they’re going on to their fairs, when are they coming. Some of our schools have learnt over the years when they’re arriving, that’s the other thing, ‘when are they coming, why are they coming, why are they stopping in Northamptonshire?’ It’s because they’re making a journey somewhere else, there’s going to be a big fair.
Our carnival itself, on the day we had children and we had some adults …… we’re very blessed, we’d planned our site this year so all our troops [? 11:15] were numbered, and of course you get the, ooh and the ah, arriving one of those big horses, huge, and a pony, this poor little pony. Everyone was getting ready, and you know what carnivals are like the whistles started, things started to get blown, loud, clear, bangs and all the rest of it. Sadly the big horse couldn’t cope with it, it was outside of the remit, does that make sense, it was not an experience that our travellers have had, and it wasn’t, therefore, an experience the horse would have had, this horse was used to racing up and down lanes. The experience of all that noise wasn’t an experience that horse was used to, and, therefore, they wouldn’t chance it to take it out on the parade.
So that was a huge learning curve for us and for them, but the pony could, the pony went out and was like, bring it on, I’m liking this, this is great, I’m going to be trotting along having a really good time. It was smiling. Honestly there are some lovely photographs of this pony really in its element, pulling this cart. They’d made flowers and they had baskets and they were throwing flowers out to the gathered crowds. It was a lovely site.
Merle has the privilege of setting the carnival site so she saw more of it than I did, but when it came out and there were all the, ooh’s and ah’s and all the rest, and I was like, where’s the big horse, because I didn’t realise what had happened. Again that was a huge learning curve for both us, both for the travellers and for us as organisers.
They desperately wanted a bow caravan kind of thing, they’re not wealthy, and they put in a grant and they’ve got one for this year’s carnival, it’s a lovely, beautiful, painted thing, but they’ve decided that because many of those travellers don’t own horses but have got 4x4s that this bow will have a vehicle pulling it, rather than a horse. That’s a decision they’ve made. I would prefer the horse but I’ve got to respect where they’re coming from and how they feel about it, and they feel more comfortable. They might still bring this little pony, because it’s still attractive, but they have made a decision about how they want to use the equipment they have. Now that’s a huge journey for both groups.
Their experience was that, for them, it brought them in closer connect with like our Punjabi community, they’d had very little to do with that. That noise level helped them because we had bhangra drummers, we weren’t a quiet carnival. In fact the steel band was quite pleasing; it was a nice, quiet-ish sound. They picked up on community groups they’d had very little contact with. The carnival, and the way it was set out, created an environment where you could walk around, you could set up your stall and then you could walk around, not only walk around in the parade but walk around on the park, where we also aim to have a variety of foods, a variety of stalls, a cultural mix on that.
For us the experience of that particular group was challenging, but it was a positive challenge, because it’s actually put us in good stead for any future groups like that that we might have.
I think we thought they might be the most difficult group, but, for instance, we haven’t touched Kosovans who’ve been there for quite some time. We have a group called, ‘Supplementary Schools’, so our Polish, Greek, Chinese, Hindu and Muslim groups that have all been involved, and that’s been a challenge but a much easier challenge, we’ve got roots in. It has proved to be one of our biggest challenges, but now we’re close friends, and they phone me to say, ‘have you got any friends that could give us good insurance for this bow?’, and all the rest of it. It has moved them on as well and, as I say, got them into schools, which is an important aspect. It’s not just about the parade, the costumes and all that, if it has knock-on effects it’s really good.
I want to stop there and announce that our carnival is on Saturday 9th of June. We go through Northampton Town Centre. We start at Delapre Park and we are full of fun. We’re going to have too many stalls I think, and the Safety Advisory Group are going to shoot us, but do we care, no.
I think it’s the initial welcome, the initial experience. We accept that sometimes groups may not be able to make it the next year, but it’s really great though that they let us know, ‘I’m sorry we can’t make it this year’, or, ‘I’m really sorry so and so isn’t well.’ We had it last year with a Polish group that couldn’t take part. Our job is the initial how we make people feel and the follow-up, we follow-up, we follow-up.
You’re invited to take part; it’s a public thing you can register. However we keep your information, we keep your contact details, and we share information if there’s a workshop. It doesn’t matter what the nature of the workshop is, everybody who’s been involved in our parade, and as a stall member, we send out information to them, so we keep that connection. If they can’t take part this year they know when it’s happening, they know what’s happening, and sometimes they feel badly, ‘oh I’m late, I didn’t think I could take part but I can.’ You need to keep links. Once you’ve established the link you have to keep it.
It is things like we have workshops, we engage with UKCCA, Colin’s come up and we’ve just been talking, I was talking to him last week. Giving people a different experience, they all say it’s a difference experience. They now talk to each other, sometimes we’ll go, ‘well how did they know that?’ they communicate, ‘is so and so taking part?’ We now have friendship groups, ‘are so and so taking part?’, and last year when we had some funding it was the level of, ‘yes we’ve got the travellers and the Guides’, a group that has a 60 year celebration coming up next year, they booked last year, ‘don’t forget to let us know in 2013 that we’re going to be doing …’
It is a huge event, it’s the biggest in the town, street event wise, and so it is seen as a publicity event, people can come, ‘give us £5’ hand-out leaflets. It’s the 9th of June so it’s early on. We tried to emulate Luton, who are later this year, I hope you go back to the other dates next, but you used to do the May Bank Holiday for Luton, and we would be the second, so Luton enabled us to come down, hand out leaflets, and then people could come to us.
The other thing we do say to groups is, ‘would you mind if we pass your information on?’ making them feel that they’re worthy. We’ll say, ‘sometimes schools get in touch with us would you mind?’, ‘sometimes Patricia may get in touch with us because she wants somebody who’s 6ft, 4” …’ whatever, ‘… would you mind if we gave her your name?’ It’s just to make them feel that we’re interested in them, not just on the day.
One of our statements is, ‘the day is great, the getting there is greater’, so it gets people in the mood, ‘if it gets rained off, if something happens, you’ve already made a journey in this experience’, ‘you’ve built costumes’, ‘you’ve met’, ‘grandma’s sewn six shirts’, ‘him down the road has gone to Southend or Norwich because they’ve had a fantastic workshop.’ It’s that.
That’s why we’re a part of the project, for instance, our launch is going to be in Northampton Museum. They are really keen to be a partner with us. In the museum there are like old bicycles, and when we had the original meeting before the project was set up we met a number of people, of age, whose father had left materials and so on.
Our local newspaper, Ajay and Charlotte are here, Ajay is our outreach, is very keen now because we’ve established a relationship with them. They do pull-outs, they’re clever it sells papers, it does. It was a 20 / 24 page pull-out of the last carnival, it’s amazing, front page and then inside 2 years in a row. Our archivist has spoken to them and they’re even going as far as …… she’s got a picture up at the moment that they love, and if she finds a picture anywhere they’re willing to run it in, ‘looking for …’, they’ve got these oldie worldie things, they’re going to be running it in the paper to say, ‘can you identify yourself?’ So we’ve got that established, so that’s our newspaper.
Our local radio station is a gem. They like following carnival, they take part in it big-time. It’s like live broadcast from our carnival, they interview people on the road, they’re involved, and they build it. They interviewed the travellers last year when we said we were going to have travellers, they interviewed them, they were on there, it’s that important, they interviewed other people; I often try not to go on the radio, so there are those links.
We are really looking to the archiving now to really pull it in with those and the museum.
Things like the lorry company that used to be in Northampton, like Reeford [? 25:29] and all of that, we need to go to them as well for their archiving, what money did they give? Although businesses have gone some have gone to America we need to track them.
We know the background it’s just for somebody else to run and do it because we’re always doing something else.
Oh yes, this is a good example, on the 10th of March not only have we got our launch, but the Northampton Museum have offered us a space in the peoples’ gallery at the top for a whole month to put up a display.
We’re going to be using some of our pictures and costumes and all of that from Northampton, they’re doing it, and next year they’re looking to give us floor space for about 3 months. I’m looking at Ajay. All I can do is announce this and say, ‘yes, thank you’, and then just leave it to them because it’s really interesting.
It is a Saturday. We made it the second Saturday in June for no reason. It used to be on a Thursday on Upper Street, started in one place; we now start and finish in the same place, and believe it or not we chose a park. This is how deep we thought about it, we chose a park where in the area the National Front was very active, and that impressed the Arts Council. You know we could have had loads of parks but we chose an area, which is on the edge of town, where the National Front still are but to a lesser degree, ‘we’re going to be in your face, we know how to make you happy, we’re going to choose this park.’
Although it’s not the easiest of parks, call me wilful if you like, I have to go to these totally ridiculous meetings, they’re good meetings actually, called, ‘Northampton Safety Advisory Group.’ Now the Safety Advisory Group would like it on one of the other parks, ‘oh why don’t you chose Abington Park?’, very nicely, ‘why don’t you choose …?’, ‘no, why should we?’, ‘but there’s only one entrance’, ‘that’s why we like it, we like to see who’s coming and going out, we like to keep a check, it’s easy for us’, ‘but you know there could be problems’, ‘yes okay fair enough.’ There hasn’t been.
That alone we had a talk through. There were other parks we could have chosen but we chose this one, and it was definitely because the National Front was active down there.
Over the years it has grown, I mean last year we had 48, a variety, drama groups now use it. When we say, ‘here is the stage you have 3 minutes on it’, they’re not really 3 minutes of dance, we’ve had 3 minutes of drama, because in that same park at the back there’s a drama group that’s going to be doing a Shakespearean something in August, it gives them good promotion and they do something, it’s great, and what that means is that we get a lot of families coming, it’s a family event.
Because we’d chosen this area and it doesn’t get a lot of things, so the carnival, when you come out of that park and see what must be 5,500 just standing at the gate, they’ve lined the route, your heart is leaping, you know I go out there and I want to cry. The first one we had, they don’t have funfairs, they don’t have anything down at this part, it used to be the sheepdog trials that was the level of the park, and the Pony Club, so you see where that park is.
This lady, she was a white lady, she was sitting there, it was after 8, I said, ‘have you enjoyed it?’, ‘yes, I was born here, I’ve lived here all my life, I went to school here, I married, I’ve got children down here, it’s the first time I’ve been in this park, and I didn’t know what that jerk chicken was but I had some, bit hot, but I had some, and the fried dumpling that’s really nice. Any trouble you have I only live across the road there, just come and let me know.’ That’s the nature of it. She had tried the jerk chicken, never been in the park, this was a lady in her 30s if not more, never been, and she lived across the road, never been in it.
Thank you very much for listening, I hope you found it useful.
Recording ends 31:10 minutes