After nearly two months of speculation, and frustration, organiser NHCL has announced that has decided to cancel this year’s Notting Hill Carnival, due to have taken place on Sunday 30 and Monday 31 August 2020. The National Steelbands Panorama on Saturday 29 August is also cancelled.
In a statement issued at 1pm today, Notting Hill Carnival Ltd said:
After lengthy consultations with our strategic partners and our Advisory Council, the Board has taken the decision that this year’s Carnival will not take place on the streets of Notting Hill as it has done for over 50 years… This has not been an easy decision to make, but the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and the way in which it has unfolded means that this is the only safe option. Everyone’s health has to come first.
The announcement has come as no surprise, as all major public events – including carnivals – have been cancelled through the summer in the UK and worldwide. Many in the community wondered why it was taking NHCL so long to come to what looked to be an inevitable decision in the light of the threat from the Covid-19 coronavirus and the impossibility of social distancing at such a crowded and tight-packed event.
The decision will nevertheless come as a bitter disappointment to many carnivalists, who had been desperately hoping that, against all the odds, they would be able to mark their freedom from lockdown with a joyous celebration on the streets at the end of August.
Guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) is clear: so long as there’s a serious risk of Covid-19 infection in a country, and if there is no effective means of social distancing or testing and isolating people feeling unwell at the event, mass gatherings (such as carnivals) should not be permitted. WHO spokesperson Dr Margaret Harris told Soca News: “WHO recommends that any decision to restrict, modify, postpone, cancel, or proceed with holding a mass gathering should be based on a standardized risk assessment exercise. These decisions should be part of a comprehensive approach taken by national authorities to respond to the outbreak.” Guidance on risk assessment can be found on the WHO website, www.who.int.
Many carnivalists are current or former health or care workers, and have been especially critical of the potential risk posed to their colleagues if Carnival were to be held this year.
NHCL stated today:
We have no wish to place extra strain on our colleagues at St John Ambulance and the NHS. We, of course, work very closely with them for Carnival and want to take this opportunity to express our utmost respect, admiration and gratitude for their work.
Web-based meetings are now essential for most businesses, carnival groups are keeping in touch with members through social media, and organisers of some cancelled carnivals, eg New Carnival Company in the Isle of Wight, have introduced web-based mas workshops for kids.
NHCL appears to be promising something along similar lines:
We are working towards an alternate [sic] NHC 2020 that we hope will bring the Carnival spirit to people from the safety of their homes, and make them feel connected and engaged.
We are still at the early stages of planning for Notting Hill Carnival 2020 in its temporary form. We will share more information on how it will take shape soon. We will now be working closely with our partners, the Carnival community and others to deliver a celebration of Carnival culture and arts for the whole nation over the August bank holiday weekend.
While some mas bands had already decided to pull out of the event and concentrate on planning for 2021, others have invested heavily in designs and materials this year and face serious financial losses without costume sales and fetes to support their operations. Urgent questions will have to be asked about funding – can a grant or sponsorship programme be carried over to 2021 or is it simply going to evaporate if the money isn’t used this year?
Mas bands and steel bands, musicians, DJs, promoters, designers and the whole economy of Carnival will need substantial support if they are to survive this crisis. Carnival groups will be looking to NHCL and their membership bodies for strong and decisive leadership on this.
Some see a positive side to this enforced break. It will, they argue, provide valuable breathing space for Notting Hill Carnival – and other UK Caribbean carnivals – to pause, regroup and plan ahead for the future. For the first time in five decades it will be possible to think strategically about the carnival that the community wants to see in the years to come.
Subjects for discussion and development might include: involvement of and leadership by younger generations; the place of craft mas and tradition compared with commercial party mas and dutty mas; innovation in mas-making and pan-tuning; use of environment-friendly materials; improvements to the route and the visitor experience; longer-term financial planning for economic sustainability; lobbying government bodies for greater recognition of Carnival as a creative and cultural force in modern Britain; systematically recording and archiving Carnival; creating an accessible Carnival Centre for London… the list goes on.
- How do you feel about the cancellation of Notting Hill Carnival? What sort of carnival do you want to see in future? How would you improve it? Soca News wants to hear your views – get in touch now via social media.