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In the shadow of Grenfell, we asked locals what Carnival means to them this year

The celebration goes on, but the streets of West London will definitely feel different

  • Words: Alice Finney | Art: Lawrence Abbott
  • 24 August 2017

This weekend, two million people will descend on West London for the 51st Notting Hill Carnival. It’ll be the usual celebration of West Indian music, food and culture but this year something will be markedly different. The burnt-out husk of Grenfell Tower will overlook proceedings, casting tragedy over Carnival. Something you’ll see as soon as you step out of Latimer Road station to the sounds of floats and horns and Supermalt whistles and Lord Gelly’s soundsytem.

This is something that unites many of the locals I speak to about Carnival. “So many people will see it ‘cause when you stand on the platform it’s right there. They’ll literally be welcomed by it,” says Ploy Henderson, who was born and bred in the block next to Grenfell. “People will be partying in the streets under the sky coffin, there’s no escaping it,” says Lady Love, a DJ and resident of Kensington and Chelsea. “Many streets are effectively open shrines and places for reflection or communal healing,” echoes another local, Hannah, of the photographs, flowers and 'Have you seen…?' posters that are everywhere around the area.

What is most disconcerting is that for these people there is no escape: their lives will forever be swept up in the ashes and the smoke, in the cries and in the hollow halls of the tower. 21-year-old Zahra Shamji tells me of the impact the Grenfell disaster has had on her life. She lost a friend in the fire and has had to live in hotels and temporary accommodation for the past two months, displaced from her family home in Lancaster West Estate where she has spent her entire life.

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