What it’s like living in Notting Hill when the carnival comes to town



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“I feel it’s a privilege to be near the Carnival route. There is some inconvenience to it, but it’s a way to show the world we are proud of our civic environment.”

Jessica Cornfeld has a vantage point to soak up all the atmosphere of the Notting Hill Carnival as the floats process up Ladbroke Grove at Europe’s largest street party.

The event is now a staple on London’s cultural calendar and attracts more than one million visitors from the UK and abroad, with tourists making up a fifth of the crowd.

It contributes an astonishing £100m to the economy.

This year sees the 53rd Carnival and from the moment paint is thrown on Sunday morning (August 25) to start the Children’s Day, to the removal of the last empty bottle on Monday evening, a million extra people are expected to have been on the streets of Notting Hill.

Jessica Cornfeld says you have to just go with the flow when carnival comes to town (Image: Darren Pepe)

Jessica Cornfeld knows there will be bits of rubbish in front of her home but she stressed “you have to go with it (Carnival). If you resent it it can become a real nightmare.”

“The trade off is you have a front row seat for a phenomenal piece of theatre and it’s an opportunity to participate in it.”

She creates a tranquil space in her garden during the event for invited friends to enjoy the spectacle.

“If you treat yourself and your space in an around you well, people tend to reciprocate,” she said.

“Clearing rubbish is a minor inconvenience,” she admitted and said she does not like having to walk home the long way because of barricades on some streets.

Some residents board up the front of their homes – which can cost several hundred pounds, and head away for the Bank Holiday.

Kensington and Chelsea council also offers some trips away for vulnerable community members.

This year it is spending around £20,000 for a coach trip to Eastbourne for older people who want to leave the area for Carnival but are otherwise unable to get away.

It teams up with Age UK to make the three-night break happen.

The inevitability of revellers urinating in the street or in front gardens is a perennial concern.

‘Left feeling disgusted’

Some just turn a blind eye, but one parent, who has lived in the area for years, said it makes him just want to leave the area for the weekend.

As the father of a young child, the behaviour from some visitors is a problem and means he doesn’t find Carnival “fun”.

“I think carnival is very different if you’re actively involved in it – making costumes, organising events, or if it’s a big part of your family or cultural heritage,” he said.

“But for me, even though I appreciate its importance, my overwhelming feeling is always that I want to get away for the weekend.”

Some people board up their back yards and graffiti artists take full advantage – it’s become a carnival tradition (Image: Daren Pepe)

The dad, who wanted to speak anonymously, said he feels dismayed by some of the behaviour he’s witnessed.

“The times I’ve tried to enjoy Carnival I’ve mainly been left feeling disgusted by my fellow human beings,” he said.

“I saw men climbing over my daughter’s school gates to urinate against the school entrance, that was at 1pm on day one, not 10pm on the Monday.

“That same day in the same few minutes I saw parents so drunk they were hitting their children in the street; an old man was pretending to raise money for charity just so he could put stickers on young women’s chests; one teenage girl offered to have sex with me just like that.

“This was all at 1pm on day one. People are doing all the things they can’t do the rest of the year.

Many people think the carnival is a great chance to have a party (Image: Getty Images)

“Then there’s the violence and the general aggression, which you might be oblivious to if you’re busy organising but you can’t miss it if you live here and just want to get somewhere through the crowds.”

He also raised the issue of people relieving themselves.

“It stinks of urine,” he said.

“I’ve had people [urinating] in my garden, seen groups of young men running into the crowd punching indiscriminately. That’s the reality.

“Of course there’s the beautiful clothing and beautiful people and that’s also the reality. But to live here, it’s not fun.”

‘Everywhere you go in London smells of pee!’

Isis Amlak who is helping to organise 130 community stewards for this year’s Carnival is sanguine about the toilet issue.

“The reality is everywhere you go in inner London smells of pee,” she said.

“No one wants people peeing all over the place. It’s inevitable having that – part and parcel of being on the streets.”

Ms Amlak, who is a poet, first came to Carnival when she was 15, despite being forbidden by her parents as she was too young. She was hooked and has been going to the event since 1983.

She said: “For me, there’s so many different elements for Carnival, it’s cultural. It is yin and yang, the positivity outweighs the negativity.”

She added: “It is historic and celebrates the contribution and culture and history of the Windrush generation. It is about culture, it’s about music, it’s about human rights. Carnival comes out of an enslaved culture in the Caribbean where enslaved people did not have time off.”

Ms Amlak has also served on Scotland Yard’s Carnival Gold group for five or six years and was vice chair of the police engagement group where she presented the “community’s position”.

She said the crime rate is higher at other big music festivals and pointed out that if people who buy homes in the area don’t like the noise they should think twice about moving in.

Carnival does have an uglier side with some excessive boozing and violent behaviour some residents say (Image: Getty Images)

The number of toilets always features high on the organisers’ list and this year Kensington and Chelsea council is even bringing in 500 compostable toilets.

Street cleaners will be working round the clock to clear up rubbish, including food containers and drink bottles from the streets of Notting Hill.

Both councils also organise a service to clear rubbish from the front of people’s homes along and around the 3.5 mile route.

For Ladbroke Grove resident Paola Fumagalli there are mixed feelings. She watches the parade from a vantage point right in front of her home.

‘I hate the people who come to get wasted’

“I’m in two minds about it. I love the Carnival, I really like it. It brings a sense of community. But I hate the people who come to get wasted. Who feel authorised to pee on your front door.

Preparations for The Notting Hill Carnival 2019 in Ladbroke Grove and surrounding roads (Image: Darren Pepe)

“It’s disrespectful that people have for other people who live here. The problem is that people have bad manners. When they get drunk they feel entitled to do everything.”

She does not board up the front of her home and said: “I would feel in prison.”

Ms Fumagalli praised the council’s clean up operation and its free basement cleaning service.

Her highlight of the two day event is that “I just end up talking to everyone. It’s nice to have a party come to the end of your street.”

Her cousin Daniela also lives on the route nearby.

She said: “I enjoy going around with a lot of friends. I’ve got a friend at one of the sound systems and I love listening to the music, basement dancehall music, soca and calypso and old school reggae. And I get the food, I love it.”

She added: “I really love the Carnival, because it’s all of London.”

And she advised “you have to be streetwise.”

Chris Arning said one year he had a puncture on his bike because of all the glass. But despite urinals located near his home on Tavistock Crescent he said a highlight was “seeing other people enjoy themselves and seeing other people on their balconies. People have so much fun.”

He’s been to the Rio Carnival and rates Notting Hill as better, “It’s not a patch on Notting Hill,” he said.

“It’s an expression of vibrancy and black British community on the street,” he said.

‘I can’t believe how lucky I am having this on my doorstep’

Verena Lewis has a front row seat of all the action at Powis Square – where Carnival sound system pioneers Mangrove perform.

There’s also food stalls just nearby and she says the clear up is even a community event with neighbours getting together to tidy up.

“The sense of community is amazing.

It’s celebrating one of the greatest communities in the world. I can’t believe how lucky I am in having that on my doorstep.”

She said residents also develop strategies – getting food in advance and “get friends in and close the curtains if you don’t like it. It can be restricted because there’s so many people, and don’t let people in to use the loo.”

Friends will arrive three hours late, she predicts as they find their way through the crowds, “but they will have had fun on the way”.

“A highlight is the partying. You have been given permission to have a party and you should make the best of it. Life is so precious, just enjoy it.

“People come from miles around and other communities and diverse backgrounds to have a good old knees up.”

Another highlight is the practice in the days before Carnival.

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“Soft kettle drums will start up in the evening before, you can hear the soft music coming through the windows and the gentle rhythm of the Caribbean. It is exciting, it is the start of it.”

“You will see people going by on stilts and in the most amazing outfits. It’s bonkers, but it’s lovely, it’s so diverse.”

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