Leeds West Indian Carnival 2018: Focus should be on heritage and families celebrating says co-founder Arthur France
Record crowds turned out for the 50th anniversary of Leeds West Indian Carnival last year as its largest ever procession brought colourful costumes, dance and music to the streets of Chapeltown.
Those watching spoke about what it meant to their family, why they had brought their children along and how they loved the party atmosphere.
But hours earlier, a police cordon had been in place on part of the route the parade would take as officers gathered evidence in the wake of a shooting.
A court would later hear how a man was shot with a converted handgun by someone who had borne a grudge for five years.
It was the second year running that there had been violence involving guns during the course of the weekend of carnival celebrations.
Nobody wants to see another incident like this marring the festivities planned for the upcoming Bank Holiday weekend, least of all co-founder and chairman Arthur France.
“A lot of people see Chapeltown in a negative light,” he said. “It’s amazing how many people come round though and say they came to enjoy the carnival – that’s how it should be and how we want it to be, to show a positive community and city.
“It’s a family friendly event and that’s what it’s supposed to be. The children are our future and if we don’t show them something positive then actually we’ve just wasted our time.”
Police confirmed last month that they were deploying extra resources on a permanent basis ahead of the carnival and the separately-run Black Music Festival, which are both held in the Chapel Allerton ward over the same weekend.
Ward councillor Jane Dowson said: “Leeds West Indian Carnival is the oldest in Europe and is a wonderful celebration that helps showcase Leeds as a cultural hotspot with different events for the whole family.
“The amazing volunteers, artists and participants that bring this wonderful event to life every year have done it with such passion in a way that everybody in the community can be proud of.”
The aim remains to ensure that the tens of thousands of visitors attending the carnival can enjoy it safely, but the fatal shooting of 24-year-old Christopher Lewis in Reginald Street on August 1 may have given rise to doubts for some.
Superintendent Jo Morgan, who heads up Neighbourhood Policing for Leeds District, said she recognised the understandable concern such crimes create but stressed they were working closely with the council and organisers of the various events to make them as safe as possible for those attending.
“Over several weeks leading up to the Bank Holiday weekend we have had additional patrols and operations in the area, including mounted and roads policing officers,” she said.
“This has supported our ongoing proactive work to target and disrupt those involved in crime that damages this community, particularly the organised supply of drugs that is directly linked to the criminal use of firearms on the streets.
“It has been very clear that local people support our ongoing efforts to tackle the criminal minority whose actions can have such a negative impact on their lives, and we will keep doing everything we can maintain that support throughout the Carnival weekend and beyond.”
It is this team effort between the carnival’s organisers and others that Mr France credits with the growing popularity of the event.
He said: “Carnival is a celebration of the emancipation of our forefathers from slavery. It has meaning to it and we’re very passionate about it.
“Some years ago when we had some problems, we got rid of it with the support of the police. Some people wanted to muscle in and [cause trouble]. For me, that’s a disrespect to our forefathers.”