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Notting Hill Carnival: How local government helps it happen

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The August bank holiday sees hundreds of thousands of people travel from across the world to enjoy the unique combination of culture, music, food and spectacular floats that make up Notting Hill Carnival.

  • Project: Supporting Notting Hill Carnival
  • Objectives: Support the delivery of one of the biggest community-led street celebration in the world while reducing disruption to those who don’t attend. We provide financial and logistical support
  • Timescale: Annual event with year-long preparation activities
  • Cost to authority: Over £500,000
  • Number of staff working on project: Over 100
  • Outcomes: A safe and fun event for hundreds of thousands of attendees combined with positive outcomes for local residents and businesses
  • Officer contact details: Sue Harris

It’s predominantly an un-ticketed, community-led event, with attendance numbers to rival the largest music festivals, taking place on public streets in the heart of London. So how do we support the event organisers in ensuring a safe, enjoyable day, while minimising disruption for our residents?

Central to our approach is our relationship with the carnival organisers. We don’t appoint or commission them to organise the event. Instead, we respect it as theirs and work alongside partners like the police, the Greater London Authority, other councils and Transport for London to facilitate, but not control, the event. It means finding consensus about what works best for everyone, rather than just referring to a contract.

It’s vital in this complex web of different partners everyone knows who is doing what and when in a range of circumstances. To help, this year we arranged a large war-gaming session where every relevant organisation gathered then split down into the operational units they would be in on the carnival itself.

These units then responded to different scenarios. These could range from a hot weather warning or reports of suspicious abandoned cars to potential emergencies that might require a strategic response. This allowed us to see what worked well and where the pressure points were. Our plans are now ready.

Testing new ways of working and aiming for measurable improvements is also key. We listen to the concerns of the community and carnival goers through surveys and face-to-face meetings.

Last year, over 74% of borough residents rated the event positively, although concerns remain about safety and disruption caused by the event. Our job as public servants is to balance the views and improve things where we can.

We are also always keen to trial new ideas. This year there’s a big focus on improving sustainability by using nudge techniques and social media to encourage people to recycle within the carnival area.

It’s also about getting better at tackling perennial problems. Discovering your garden is being used as a urinal is always high on the list of people’s complaints over the weekend – and one that we are always aiming to solve.

We offer free cleaning services for basements and gardens after the event, and our temporary toilet facilities are now chemical and water-free, with increased numbers over the last couple of years. And for a small number of elderly and vulnerable residents for whom the carnival is too much, we work with charity Age UK to arrange a trip to the seaside.

The creativity and sheer hard work that go into a fabulous event should not be underestimated. It truly is a multi-agency approach: from the carnivalists who unpaid create the fabulous costumes, to the street cleaner who starts work at midnight to clear the streets by dawn.

And as the last chicken bone and drink can is picked up by our 200-strong cleansing crew on Tuesday morning, the hot debrief has begun and we are planning for 2019.

With new organisers at the helm this year who have brought fresh energy to the carnival, we’re confident this year’s event will be exceptional. If you are in London, I look forward to seeing you there.

Sue Harris, executive director, environment and communities, Kensington and Chelsea RBC

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