Southwark’s opposition politicians will push to save the Bermondsey Carnival, the free event organised by local people since the 1990s, after its funding was unceremonially cut by the council this year.
Organisers of the carnival, which traces its roots as far back as 1900, were told there was no money for the summer event in Southwark Park this year. Last year the carnival was given £35,000 by Southwark Council for a small edition, and has had about £80,000 for full-sized celebrations in the past.
Russell Dryden, one of the organisers, told the News he was encouraged by the council to apply for a grant of up to £10,000 to hold the carnival this year.
Southwark’s Liberal Democrats, who are in opposition to Labour, who control the council, will force a vote at Wednesday’s (March 23) council assembly on whether or not to give a grant for full-sized celebrations this year.
It comes as the council contemplate giving permission for a private company to shut off part of the park for up to two weeks for a Korean pop (K-pop) festival in late July and early August. Organisers appear likely to get permission, given that the festival was given the green light in 2021, before being forced to postpone by a year because of Covid-19 concerns.
The two events could be linked – money given by the organisers of the K-pop festival, which understandably has proven controversial among local residents, could be used to fund free local events like the Bermondsey Carnival, although there has been no explicit confirmation of this from the council.
Commenting, Cllr Hamish McCallum, Southwark Liberal Democrat group leader and North Bermondsey councillor said: “This is a classic example of Labour not listening to residents when it comes to decision-making. In one swoop, Labour’s policies suggest a potential future of profiting off Southwark Park with events like the K-pop festival, while residents lose out on important community gatherings like Bermondsey Carnival.
“What is shocking is that they have made this decision after a pandemic that has severely restricted us from seeing each other at diverse, inclusive events like the Bermondsey Carnival.”
The Southwark Park Association 1869, which helps run and promote the park, has launched a separate petition to get funding for the festival.
In a letter to Labour council leader Kieron Williams, members said: “Without a dedicated budget from the Council the future of the Carnival is in doubt. Reinstatement of £35,000 would cost about 54p a head of the local population, or a tiny 0.4% of the Council’s overall Environment and Leisure budget of £88m. As we come out of the pandemic, giving some certainty around funding for the organisers of the much-loved Carnival makes financial and social sense.
“We call upon the Council to urgently reconsider its decision.”
Cllr Alice Macdonald, cabinet member for equalities, neighbourhoods and leisure, said in response to the original news of the cut: “We are working to support a wider range of community events, that reflect the diverse communities living across Southwark. However, government funding cuts and additional costs brought about by the pandemic, have put real pressure on our budgets.
“The income generated from commercial events, such as the K-Pop festival, play an essential role in enabling the continued support of community events through our new Cultural Celebrations Fund. We invite community organisations to apply for grants from this fund to run free, local events across the borough. Bermondsey Carnival is among this year’s applicants and we will be announcing successful bids later this month.”