Dennis Christopher, chairman of the Leicester Caribbean Carnival speaks to Keya Modessa about the annual event and his hopes for its future.
On Saturday 5 August crowds will line the city streets to see the colourful costumes and dance to the infectious sound of traditional Caribbean music during the annual Carnival. The event has been running since 1985 and this year marks its 32nd anniversary.
Dennis Christopher, chair of the Carnival has attended the event every year since it began and has seen it grow into what he believes, is the largest carnival in the East Midlands.
“It’s been a battle to get to 32 years. This year I feel positive going forward and there’s a lot more people appreciating the carnival.”
Having been chairperson since 2002, Dennis, also known as ‘Sugar’ works closely with event coordinator Juliette. Together they are the backbone of the event and work tirelessly to organise it despite having their funding cut by the city council a few years ago.
After receiving the bad news, they looked at other ways to bring money in but struggled to raise funds. Instead of burying their head in the sand they made the risky move of charging a small entrance fee into Victoria Park where the parade ends. The decision was met with some negativity and left a few people disgruntled:
“Some of the Caribbean community still think the carnival should be free. If you love the carnival, put your money in and whether the stalls in the park make a profit or not, you’re still making a contribution to the community.”
“There are also some people who have said ‘if you remove Caribbean from the name you will get more money’. You can’t be misled that way and I refuse to do that.”
Dennis has stuck to his guns and it seems to have paid off. Last year an estimated 80,000 people attended the parade route and an impressive 34,000 joined in with the festivities in the park.
His aim is to use the carnival to bring people together and celebrate no matter what their race or religion but he is adamant that the culture of the carnival should be kept alive:
“The one thing we have to do is make sure that 80% of the music is calypso, soca and steel band. At one time we wouldn’t have had other music but we’re bringing it in. The food culture is no longer curry goat, rice and chicken jerk; we now have Asian, English and Irish food,” he explains.
There’s no doubt that the carnival has come leaps and bounds since its humble beginnings but he thinks it can be so much more: “My aim and objective is to make it self-sufficient financially and I think we should be more colourful, more louder and the people who live around the park who often complain, they just have to say ‘right it’s carnival today, we’re going to join in and dress up in the colours and make as much noise as we want,’ ” laughs Dennis.
The carnival’s opening ceremony will begin at 12.30pm and will be followed by the street parade.
The procession will set off from Victoria Park and travel down London Road and also Charles Street and head back to the park via Gallowtree Gate, Granby Street and London Road. The procession will aim to arrive back at the park at 4.30pm.
There will be food and entertainment in Victoria Park and the carnival will finish at 8pm.
Road closures during the carnival are as follows:
Buses will be unable to serve London Road between Victoria Park and the city centre.
Buses that stop in Humberstone Gate East, Haymarket and the southern part of Charles Street will be diverted from around 2pm until the parade has passed through the city centre.
Park and Ride services will continue to operate but service 303 will not serve Haymarket while the parade is in the centre.
Leicester train station will not have any vehicular access during the closure. Arrangements for hackney carriages to and from the station will be via Sparkenhoe Street and Conduit Street.