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Carnival Futures: Notting Hill 2020

The Notting Hill Carnival is over 50 years old. Today it is unrecognisable in scope and scale from its beginnings in the 1960s. Carnival Futures looked at how it might evolve further, by 2020.

Led by Dr Nicole Ferdinand, who was a doctoral student in the Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King's until 2015, this project engaged a wide range of cultural organisations and other stakeholders in planning for the future of the Notting Hill Carnival. Nicole worked closely with Carnival Village and other organisations within the carnival community to engage stakeholders in the process of scenario planning, and to consider how their external relationships and internal capabilities might need to be adapted as Carnival grows in scale and reach.

The project spanned over two-weeks whereby stakeholders were engaged in a series of workshops in which alternative visions of the future were developed. Using these scenarios, the cultural organizations considered how their external relationship portfolio and internal capabilities need to be adapted to match future requirements.The workshops actively engaged the carnival community, along with other stakeholders in the process of producing and disseminating research. A critical aspect of the project was to include members of the carnival community as workshop convenors/ researchers.


Background to Notting Hill Carnival

Notting Hill Carnival began when British social worker Rhuane Laslett decided to add a steel band procession (which was a tradition of the Trinidad Carnival) to its predecessor, the Notting Hill Fayre. This addition led to the spontaneous jumping and dancing in the streets from some of the Trinidadian and other Caribbean immigrants who had settled in the Notting Hill area.

The roots of the Notting Hill Carnival, like many community-based cultural festivals, is linked to the celebration and expression of the historical, social or cultural aspects of a particular community, in this case, the Afro-Caribbean community of migrants which lived in the Notting Hill area when the festival began. However, since that historic day in 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has gone on to become an international mega-event and like other events of this nature, it is now characterized by international audiences and participants, significant economic impacts for the destination in which it is hosted and international media attention.

Since the staging of its predecessor the Notting Hill Fayre in 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has been staged every year without fail. It provides a successful example of how a festival can be used as means of integrating an immigrant population into its new host community (Knecht & Niedermuller 2003). Despite the considerable management and operational challenges posed by this mega-event and the clearly demonstrated significant economic and cultural benefits it provides for the city of London, there has been a consistent lack of long-term planning and vision for the festival.  Since the Greater London Authority (2004) published Notting Hill Carnival: A Strategic Review, there has not been any other major research exercise before or since which has sought to address future challenges and opportunities posed by the Notting Hill Carnival. 

Carnival-Futures1Notting Hill 2020

As the Notting Hill Carnival is now past its 50th year, it is perhaps an opportune time for the organisers and other stakeholders involved in the staging of the Notting Hill Carnival to take stock and re-visit their strategies for the festival. 

One possible solution explored by the project involved an emerging approach to strategic planning, pioneered by the European Tourism Futures Institute (ETFI), which makes use of foresight. Foresighting takes the key uncertainties that drive the future of organisations as a starting point. Combinations of the possible directions to which such uncertainties could develop are used to frame a number of scenarios as “painted pictures” of possible yet plausible futures - not merely predictions of the future. None of the scenarios is more likely than the others; the scenarios are just alternative pictures of what could happen. The lively projections offer inspiration for decision-makers to develop new concepts, business models, strategies or courses of action. It takes a bottom-up approach to planning for the future. Rather than acting as experts, the consultants work with stakeholders as facilitators, allowing the stakeholders to lead the research process.

The key environmental factors identified for the Notting Hill Carnival were the funding environment and the new crop of emerging carnivalists coming out of the diverse cultural community in London. The core values and unique selling points were music, transformation, tradition and the sense of freedom from the street atmosphere.

The analysis created by King's presented four future scenarios, each produced through a genuine collaboration between academia and cultural consumers, organisations and policy-makers. It is hoped that these visions of the future provide the inspiration for the cultural and entrepreneurial innovations which will support and sustain the Notting Hill Carnival in 2020 and beyond.

The Four Scenarios and their Action steps

1) Cultural Celebration - The carnival is a celebration of Caribbean cultural traditions. It features Caribbean culture exclusively. The battles of steel bands and of the bands of costumed revellers are its highlights. The music is reggae, calypso and soca. The Carnival stays true to its roots and remains in the streets of Notting Hill.

2) Tourist Spectacle - This event is one which strives to bring Caribbean cultures to as wide an audience as possible. While retaining some authentic aspects, it includes other more commercial features to broaden its appeal. Alongside calypso and reggae artists, there will be well-known dance hall, grime and garage artists and top DJs. This event caters to the audience's needs and provides an enclosed comfortable venue where people can feel secure whilst enjoying the Carnival.

3) International Arts Festival - The Carnival builds on its fame of being Europe’s biggest street party to become of a world Mecca for carnival arts and artists. This event will attract global media attention and will showcase the world’s leading carnival artists in London’s world-famous iconic venues, such as Royal Albert Hall, Excel and the Olympic Park.  

4) Cultural Fusion - Rhuane Laslett’s dream of a multi-cultural festival bringing together London’s diverse cultural and ethnic communities is realised. However, it goes beyond her 1964 vision by taking into account the new hybridized cultures that London has now produced. This event provides a platform for fusion art forms to be displayed and created. It will draw heavily on the host of grass root organisations that are creating art in London. It will take place in a green open space allowing for freedom of both movement and creativity.

Even though the Carnival’s organisers may wish to work toward a particular scenario, to make the Notting Hill Carnival future proof they should be prepared for all of the four scenarios and not choose only one that seems most preferable. So, ideally, the courses of action organisers should take for 2020 should transcend the individual scenarios. The organisers and other key stakeholders should therefore focus on three key priorities:

1) Developing human resource capacity by engaging younger people and embarking on a deliberate strategy of transferring of knowledge, skills and leadership

2) Diversifying funding sources and in particular paying more attention to the international network that the Notting Hill Carnival belongs to as the UK’s funding environment is so competitive

3) Developing of a distinctive brand identity which is in line with both  attendees’ and funding bodies’ requirements 


Below is a video of the planning process undertaken for the project. Another four project videos can be found on the Carnival Futures YouTube account


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