Notting Hill Carnival taken off streets due to Covid-19 for second year

·4 min read

The organisers of the Notting Hill Carnival have made the decision to take the event off the streets in its 55th year.

The move comes as the delay to “Freedom Day”, which had been due on June 21, means social distancing measures are still in place – something which organiser Matthew Phillip had warned would be “devastating” for Europe’s biggest street party.

Notting Hill Carnival, which was forced online last year due to the pandemic, is normally attended by around two million people.

In a statement, the board of Notting Hill Carnival Ltd said it had decided this year’s event in London “will not be on the streets due to the ongoing uncertainty and risk Covid-19 poses”.

“This has been an incredibly difficult decision to make,” the statement added.

“Everyone involved in the event desperately wants a return to the road where carnival belongs but safety has to come first and with the latest cautious announcement on the Government’s road map, this is the only way to ensure that.

“In making this decision, we have considered our responsibilities to deliver a safe, spectacular, successful and sustainable carnival.

“The conclusion is that with so much uncertainty, with time short for carnivalists to prepare and the risk of eventual cancellation a real possibility, we must refocus our efforts for 2021.”

Notting Hill Carnival 2020
Matthew Phillip, pictured with artists taking part in the 2020 event Don-e (back left) and Sundivas (back right), warned social distancing measures would be ‘devastating’ for the event (Catherine Wylie/PA)

Mr Phillip, who is chief executive of Notting Hill Carnival Ltd, told MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in February: “It would be very difficult to hold Carnival in its traditional format on the streets with social distancing in place. It would be devastating for a second year in a row.”

Rima Sams, who runs the St John’s Cafe in Notting Hill, said: “I was born in North Kensington and I’ve been to almost every carnival in the past 50 years.

“I’m very sad to hear that it’s been cancelled for the local community, both West Indian and everyone else. That’s a real shame. So much joy is derived from the two days of music, dancing and culture.”

Local resident Vicki McGarrigle and Talibah Stevenson believe that the carnival should go on.

Ms Stevenson said: “I understand it’s a difficult situation. At the same time there are protests every weekend that go on. Notting Hill Carnival is a tricky one. It’s a big area so people would be dispersed as they are every year.”

Notting Hill Carnival 2019
Notting Hill Carnival has been removed from the streets due to Covid-19 in its 55th year (Hollie Adams/PA)

“If people think that they’ll be at risk then they shouldn’t attend, but the carnival should carry on.”

Ms McGarrigle added: “I do understand why it’s cancelled but I think it should go ahead and that we should just be free. It’s up to us now as individuals.

“Notting Hill Carnival is an important event for the community but I think all events, especially when people can do things outdoors, should start to open up. The last was one was in 2019 – there should be a choice for the community.”

Batala Lancaster is a part of Batala Mundo, a collective of samba reggae bands from around the world which have been attending the carnival for over 20 years, with up to 200 international drummers.

Its musical director Reid Wason said that the musicians are “disappointed” because “Notting Hill Carnival brings the global samba-reggae community together” but “not surprised by the decision”.

A woman in costume heading to take part in the online Notting Hill Carnival, north London, after the 2020 carnival was cancelled (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
A woman in costume heading to take part in the online Notting Hill Carnival, north London, after the 2020 carnival was cancelled (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The two-day spectacle of music, dancing, food and drink is rooted in Caribbean culture, and has also been influenced by the Windrush generation.

Second only to Brazil’s Rio carnival in size, the vibrant north London event aims to promote unity and bring people of all ages together.

It brings static sound systems, live performances, and stages primarily featuring reggae and punk bands to the streets.

Notting Hill has played host to Jay-Z, Lil’ Kim and Busta Rhymes.

Last year, the first digital version of the event was hosted by radio presenters DJ Ace and Remel London, and was streamed on four channels over the August bank holiday weekend.

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