Cowley Road Carnival delights thousands throughout the city. Reporter HELEN WRIGHT met some of the people who make the carnival happen With more than 30,000 people expected to turn out for this year’s Cowley Road Carnival in three weeks’ time, there’s normally no shortage of Oxford faces at the annual parade.
But this year they are going one further, by celebrating the people that make the summer extravaganza truly spectacular.
The theme for 2014’s carnival is Oxford Faces and it celebrates the many different cultures which make up the city.
Last year’s event had 35,000 people cheer on the parade, with more than 100 live music acts performing on the day.
More than 600 volunteers and 24 groups will take part in the procession which will travel down Cowley Road on Sunday, July 6.
Charity Cowley Road Works (CRW), which organises the event, chose Oxford Faces as this year’s theme to celebrate the city’s diversity.
The procession will also feature many beloved fictional faces from Alice in Wonderland, Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
Cheney and East Oxford primary schools will walk in the parade dressed as the gargoyles which top some of Oxford’s colleges and buildings.
The Cowley MINI plant, the carnival’s main sponsor, will lead the procession represented by a group from Magdalen Road-based Pegasus Theatre.
Many of the 24 groups in the parade will be representing the multi-cultural face of Oxford, including groups from Indonesia, Nepal, Africa, Nigeria, twin-town Leon in Nicaragua, and Ireland.
Danielle Battigelli, chief executive of Cowley Road Works and organiser of the carnival, said: “There is more going on than ever before at this year’s carnival.
“We have over 25 venues for music, art and dance, and two big stages. Plus there is food, stalls and licensed bars. With so much happening make sure that your face is seen. Get dressed up and come down.”
So far £90,000 has been fundraised by CRW or donated to pay for the festival, but, as reported in the Oxford Mail on Wednesday, it is understood around £20,000 is still needed.
The carnival starts at noon and ends at 6pm and the main procession will start at 2pm and is expected to last for around an hour and a half.
Volunteers are still being sought to help out with the activities on the day, for more information contact Leora Lerba at email@example.com
Emma-Jane Greig, 27, founder of urban dance group Body Politic, will be performing on the dance stage at 3pm on carnival day.
She has been working with a group of 22 street dancers, aged between 11 and 15, to create a special dance for the carnival.
Emma was asked to create the dance after being commissioned by MINI plant, Oxford to work with youngsters and the Pegasus Theatre.
They have been rehearsing for two hours a week since the start of May.
“It is great to be able to dance and perform at the carnival and work with young people,” she said, “It is going to be really good.”
She founded Body Politic two years ago after teaching dance for four years and has also been working with the Pegasus Theatre for four years. The company’s aim is inspire and raise self confidence in young people.
“I think dance is a great for the young people because it because it gives them a chance to express themselves.”
Nicola Armitage, 39, is a film maker, videographer and designer who works at the Old Fire Station on George Street.
Last year, along with three other artists, she was asked to make a piece of work about the carnival, so she created a promotional documentary film about the day.
Nicola hopes it will inspire the community to support the event.
This is the Cowley Road - This is the Carnival will be shown at the opening of CUSP (Creative Underground Signposting Project or Carnival’s Unbelievably Special People) exhibition at the Old Fire Station on June 20.
She said: “We made the film to encourage people businesses to support the carnival.
“I remember last year and it was amazing, the sun was out and everyone was happy and it was a really great atmosphere.”
Zahra Tehrani, 26, pictured with for month-old son Sé Tehrani-White, will be running the Kate Garrett stage outside the O2 Academy on carnival day for the second year in a row.
The Kate Garratt stage will host 10 acts over five hours on the day, which have been picked by a panel of judges.
“Some people who were rejected last year have gotten though this year, so its really nice to see the improvement,” she said.
She works with different community groups, including young people and the homeless, teaching courses on music production with an emphasis on urban music.
Miss Tehrani said: “I have been going to carnival since I was a kid, and I grew up on Cowley Road.”
The stage has been set up in memory of folk musician Kate Garrett who was a member of the The Mystics in the 1990s.
She spent a lot of time in Oxford but died aged 37 in 2009 after being diagnosed with cancer.
Anya Fox, 47, has been involved in the carnival for three years and will lead the procession on the day.
She has been organising this year’s event since January to get “the logistics” started and trying to engage new groups.
The 47-year-old has also run dance workshops with schools at the Mini Plant and helped them design costumes.
She said: “I moved to the area in 2011 and wanted to get involved in the local community.
“It is really fulfilling, seeing the pride in the children’s faces as they perform, that is the bit I get the most out of it.
“Everyone works so hard and it is great to see everyone having fun.”
The most difficult thing about putting the procession together has been trying to get everyone lined up at the start.
“Last year was chaotic to say the lease,” she said. “We just underestimated how many people would be on the road at the time.”
This year the dancers will line up at St Stephen’s House, who have opened up their grounds to the cause. Work on next year’s Cowley Carnival will start again in January for Anya and her aim is to work with “untapped groups’’ in the community.
Carnival creative director Jacqui Grange, 44, came on board at the last minute in April 2013 as creative director and had a mad scramble to get everything in order.
This year she came back to make it “bigger and better”.
For Mrs Grange, who is based in Cheltenham and has a background in working in arts and events, it was important that visual arts be emphasised this year and she is delighted that the project was awarded Arts Council funding.
She said: “I always try to do one project outside of my local area every year because it’s good to be somewhere else. It is a fantastic event, and it is so important that it happens in the street and that is why I wanted to get involved.”
This year Jacqui has worked with more local promoters, more DJs, pubs and music venues will have themed live music and said there will be a “fantastic” dance programme.
Simon Tyrrell, of Finders Keepers in St Clement’s Road, will be manning the carnival’s information desk during the event for the second year.
He said the company decided to get involved because Cowley Road is “their patch’’ and they like to be able to get personally involved in the community.
The 47-year-old lettings agent said: “After 16 years living in London I know that carnivals can be fun, and something I can take my family too.
“Last year we had the information stand roving around but this year we will be in a fixed position. It is wonderful to be here looking after the area.”
The stand will be at Manzil Gardens near the main stage throughout the afternoon and will hold information from the days events.
“We are there to help,” said Simon.
‘Ma’ SMITH Icolyn
‘Ma’ Smith, pictured, says she has been involved in every carnival since it started in 2000.
She runs a stall at the Cowley Road Carnival each year to raise money for the community soup kitchen she helps with at the Asian Community Centre in Manzil Way.
“I do it to raise money for the soup kitchen,” she said.
“It varies how much we get but I always look forward to it.
“I like seeing the different people in the community.”
Leora Lerba heads up more than 600 volunteers who will be taking part in the festival, and this will be her first year taking part in the events.
After moving from Sydney, Australia, and with a background in arts and culture festivals, she applied for the position and was “super lucky” to get it.
The 27-year-old said: “It has been a big change, but its an amazing city.
“It is very rare for a city of this size to have so much art, culture and music going on in it.
“It is phenomenal and I wanted to get involved in something that the whole community could be a part of.”
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