Morcea Walker & Myrle Roach


Morcea Walker & Myrle Roach – Carnival Conference March 2013

Here’s One We Made Earlier. The 2nd Carnival Archive Conference March 15th and 16th 2013

Morcea Walker & Myrle Roach

Morcea Walker & Myrle Roach Transcript (Click to read/hide)

Hilary Carty:

Please give a warm welcome to Morcea Walker and to Myrle Roach, thank you.

Morcea Walker:

This is going to be slightly different to others, a bit of a history lesson; I’m not going to test you at the end. In order for you to understand our journey you need to understand the history bit of Northampton. Unfortunately Northampton is one of those places you see on the M1 as you drive through, it holds no relevance to most people except if there’s been an accident, or something like that, so junction 15 and 16 you’re really glad when you get to 18, which doesn’t say Northampton East or West.

Actually it’s a town with a huge history, it’s absolutely enormous. It had the second Parliament of England in it, and if anything had happened in London then Northampton would be the place where you would gather and have a meeting, so that gives us the most beautiful Guildhall that was meant for the community. It was called ‘a Rose of the Shires’, it’s stunningly beautiful, most of it is rural, Northampton, Wellingborough, Corby and Kettering are its main towns, so just picture that.

Out of all of that we were also known as the ‘County of Squires and Spires.’ Now as a black person standing here that meant quite a lot to me, squires and spires, because a lot of the squires had gained their financial means from the Caribbean or Africa, and Northamptonshire is really no exception, there are some beautiful houses in Northamptonshire. In fact we haven’t got many National Trust buildings in Northamptonshire mainly because the families are still living in those beautiful big houses, so the National Trust have only got two, but houses we’ve got double figures of major houses, so historically this Parliamentary town was there.

We have got in a place called Colworth, for example, so my history is very clear, a grave to a black slave, which very rarely happened. Very rarely would a black slave have a proper named grave, so if you go to Colworth you’ll find that.

Very recently we’ve begun very famous for Walter Tull, a footballer. He played football for Northampton, and it was from there that he joined the British Army, so we’ve got Walter Tull Way, the football club has got links with him, with his family, so we’re not lost for that historical side.

Also we are known for Lady Di and her family, Althorp House, so all of that is really fabulous history.

History is really good, if you try to restart something you’ve really got to hold on to it, and part of the issue about history is that you really have to concentrate on how, if you want to bring changes in place, you do that, because people have got a lot to hold on to, and when they’re holding on anybody coming in with new ideas are highly suspect. I have to say that could include the people from the next village, you know how they cook their food, how their houses were built, I had, ‘my village is better than your village’, and, ‘why are you coming to my village to my event?’ that kind of thing.

Other things that are worth noting really quickly, we’ve got Silverstone. The other day somebody said that Silverstone people don’t even know it’s in the County nationally, they just think of it as the place that’s hanging somewhere mystically, a bit like Egypt in Africa. You imagine Egypt and people think, oh that’s that nice place that’s hanging somewhere, ‘it’s in Africa’, ‘no because it’s pretty and it’s got its pyramids.’ Well Silverstone is the same. Northamptonshire has got Silverstone, and it hasn’t really, because people think Silverstone drops, occurs every now and again, and it’s not really a part of this County that they pass on the motorway.

Carnival historically in Northampton goes way back into the 1800s. There are huge arguments, again: At the moment they are renovating this large tractor type road roller, and they are saying that the carnival was always led by them, and, therefore, they’ve had funding to renovate this vehicle of art that’s not. On any of our main roads nowadays, talk about potholes, it would be huge holes, but they’re determined, without communication to us, that it’s going to lead one of the parades soon. We’re smiling nicely just saying, ‘oh how lovely’, but we know it’s not going to happen because the safety advisory team will just say, ‘no it’s not going to happen.’

Our understanding is that it was a biker’s event, so whatever the bikes used to do way back it was a kind of theatre type thing where the bikers got together, went out on a ride around town, a promenade, the nice things that you do, and then it sort of turned into a bigger event. We’ve erred on the side of, ‘it’s a biker’s event’, and we stand our ground on that, so in the museum, where we have a lovely relationship, it’s the bikes that reign.

Can I just say that the reason you’ve got me and not a Learning Officer, for various reasons Northamptonshire didn’t quite get to grips with that Learning Officer role, but we ended up with a fantastic archivist in the name of Charlotte, who you saw earlier today, she’s absolutely fabulous. I know the others are brilliant but I have to say we’ve got the best. She’s really moved on a lot of the stuff, you can see by some of the stuff you saw this morning.

Myrle and I, I won a dare first of all. Northampton Carnival had been off the road for a number of years, about 11 years, and there were very good reasons for that, people ran out of energy, new regulations came in and people just weren’t prepared to go with it, so it stopped.

I was at a conference with a lady called Jane West, she and I had been to about three different conferences around work, we got bored, so when it got to about the third conference we decided to sit out. She challenged me and said, ‘Morcea what’s the problem, why can’t Northampton have a carnival?’ Northampton is actually the biggest town in Europe, our smaller towns in the County were all having carnivals of sorts and we weren’t. I said, ‘I can’t, no.’ At that time I was working for the County Council, and she said, ‘well I’ll contact the County Council and get them to make you do one.’ I said, ‘don’t do that, I haven’t got enough hours in the day for what I’ve got to do now.’ Anyway, as it was then, I said to her, ‘let me see if I can get a team of people together so that we can do it.’

One of the things, I know the Arts Council are quite amazed at this, is that you pull a team together, I’m going to colour code people now: Jane West is a white colleague and a friend, but as I tried to pull people together, that I wasn’t going to have spend hours explaining what I wanted to do, we ended up with a team of black guys working up the carnival. At no point was I really conscious of that because I just knew them all, but other people became very nervous and conscious about the blackness of this group, and it was like, excuse me I’ve been wandering around Northampton schools as an advisor, Myrle Roach was working with them, Janet Horn was working with the Royal & Derngate, Mark Dean was Inspiration FM, other people were doing things, they were focussing on the community, what’s the problem?

It was a huge problem, which, thank goodness, the Archive Project has really chipped away at magnificently; I can’t stress it enough, having an Archiving Project. Although when it first arrived, a presentational thing, an elderly white couple promptly walked out saying, ‘I think we’re in the wrong place.’ There were a lot of white people in there but we had Leeds showing off some of their costumes, it was quite hilarious, Myrle ran after them and said, ‘no you are in the right place, it’s just a bit different.’

All of those things were the challenges for us, but we didn’t get rid of the old. Ask for any advice and I’d say to anybody, who may be setting up something new, that in order to engage with the community it is how you hold on to what that community has had in the past. I enjoyed it, before carnival stopped my children used to go and so on.

So what was it about Northampton Carnival that’s really worth hanging on to, and what is it that we could present as new?

In our constitution it is, ‘Northampton Carnival …’ with all the burb, ‘… with a Caribbean flavour.’ That opens the door, says, ‘with a Caribbean flavour’, and we’ve found that has worked in a long journey for us, but it has worked. What it has meant is that we’ve engaged schools. Myrle and I worked in schools so it was easy to say, ‘we’re going to focus on the young people’, and then the older ones started coming along.

I think it’s a testimony, and Tola can tell you, that last year when we got messed around with carnival by the Borough Council, we still managed to rescue a bit of it through a company [? 12:33] literally 5 minutes before, that we had elderly white couples trying to find the Caribbean food, because that’s what they’d been doing since 2005, it was their Sunday dinner. We only had one man that we had to chase down the motorway because the authorities had sent him away, we managed to get him to come back, and this elderly couple managed to follow the smell. As they were leaving, ‘how did you find this?’, ‘it’s our Sunday dinner, we’re eating the patty now’, but in their bag was their Sunday dinner. To have that is really a lovely feeling 7, 8 years on.

How did we go about it?

2005 we gathered, we had no money, not a red cent, not 10p to our name, not a penny. I can’t even remember Myrle, unless you can remind me, how we got money, I don’t know, can you remember?

Myrle Roach:

Begged, applied for funding. We didn’t borrow, because we couldn’t borrow because you can only borrow if you’re sure you can pay it back. We had convinced people that we could manage something like a carnival. We setup our stall fees, we setup our registration for having a float or a troop, etc, we explained to businesses, the County and Borough, ‘this is what we’re doing … this is how we’ve structured it …’ that we can only get a small amount for the fees from the stalls, the troops and the floats, and, ‘… for it to happen we’re going to need assistance from outside sources.’

That year the County helped, the Borough helped in terms of resources, office space, the ability to use computers, phones, because that is a big part of your costs, a lot of those things came together.

Then, because Morcea was already representing Northampton in the East Midlands Carnival grouping, which is now EMCAN [?] but it was EMCAP [?] at the time, we were able to tap into Arts Council funding and that sort of thing. Not a huge amount because of course this is the first time we’re doing this. They decided to give us to try, and, unknown to us, at our first carnival there was an assessor, he was quite pleased with what he saw, and they put their trust in us, showed us how we could apply for more funding. We started off from there, 2005, and it’s still going now.

Morcea Walker:

A lovely journey.

We’re here to really look at the archive of the project aren’t we, but you needed to have that bit of history because we were absolutely thrilled, because actually we’re not part of this Region, but we are part of the Region because you wouldn’t have such lovely material if we weren’t. Heritage Lottery funders actually came to us, so that was fine, and we were really flattered that they felt we were of a calibre that meant they felt we could contribute, so that was a big ask. Having said that, that they felt we could contribute, we had to make sure that our relationships were there.

We already had established, there’s an event in Northampton on the 6th of April that the fundraising money raised through the previous carnival went to a hospital, it was a hospital that gained the funds. Charlotte was telling us this morning that when she did a last run through of coming and bringing resources, that the hospital have got a huge amount of resources that we haven’t had yet.

Between us we already had relationships with our museum and they’ve got a lot of stuff, and we have a lovely relationship, although that’s got to be worked on again, with our local newspaper. The year before last they did us a 12 page pull out of the carnival.

Myrle Roach:

We have to tell them as well that one of the things we started doing, you know when we setup the website first, we started doing archiving and didn’t even know we were doing archiving, because we put a little thing in the paper and said, ‘we’re opening up our new website and we’d love to have any pictures of past carnivals’, and we started getting these < slide >.

When Charlotte was allocated to us to come and do the Archive Project we were actually able to show her some of these things and say, ‘is this the kind of thing you’re looking for?’, ‘yes it is!’ We’d actually started just by asking people out in the community, ‘have you got any old pictures of carnival’, and most of those we got.

Morcea Walker:

Those old pictures are fabulous. That one, for instance, < slide > is Express Lift, which they call, ‘the lighthouse of Northampton’, in the background.

It also gave us ideas for a lot of lorry companies, what businesses were around at the time, some have gone, some are still around, some were nervous about lending their lorries because of insurance and so on, but it did give us a really good start, and we really appreciate what that has meant. There’s one that’s a favourite of the Archive Project that I’d love Colin, or somebody, to have a look at and say, ‘can we re-produce that costume in a more modern way?’ because there are lots of costumes.

The reason for giving you the booklet, ‘Love Northampton’, is that it does give you some history, like we were a shoe making place, so some of those places definitely have their links with the community that we’ve not been able to tap. Some of those factories have closed down, but where have they stored their information is what we want to know.

We also had, again for a short period when we had our Learning Officer this was quite apparent, schools that had carnival as part of the curriculum. I can name one particular school, Cedar Road, they’ve had calypsonians in, and it’s a part of the curriculum. Not only do they take part in our parade in June, they also parade in February, so they do a proper look at what’s happening down in Trinidad, Tobago and other places, the religious festivals.

We’ve got a nursery, Gloucester Nursery that Charlotte’s done a lot of work with. They’re so delicious, you know you’ve got children that are growing up at nursery age, they’ve had dancers coming to do workshops, and those young children are leaving, their parents are leaving, they’re going on to primary schools, and they’re taking into the primary schools, ‘when we were at Gloucester Nursery we did this …’

Then a while ago, we need to invest in this, in design technology for GCSE we’ve had students design and make smaller costumes, it is design and technology there’s no two ways about it. It can be done for DT, it can be done for art, it can be a fine art, it can be a textile project, so that’s an area we’d really like to develop, and because of all this stuff that’s coming through on the archive we think it will be a really good thing to look at.

Lastly, Northampton has a growing multicultural community. We’ve always been blessed with this.

One of my jobs in the past has been to work with our supplementary schools, and when I was working there we had some 20 supplementary schools, from African-Caribbean, to Chinese, to Bengali, to Greek, to Polish, to Turkish, Arabs, Punjabi, a wide range, so in some of our carnivals, because we target groups, and again this will help the archiving, we’ve been known to target groups, so we know of our Arab community, we know of our Chinese. It’s retaining them; we’ve had our Bengali community take part, breaking them into it ‘oh they don’t do these sorts of things.’

Myrle Roach:

They do.

Morcea Walker:

They do and they do it well. We get them in.

We’ve been fortunate to be able to target. Last week Sunday I was overseeing a supplementary school concert, Afghan young men and I’ve already asked them if they will take part in this year’s carnival. There were eight of them. They were bouncing about all over the place on the stage, really fabulous. I said, ‘in your religion is there …’, ‘well we’re Muslims but we do have celebrations, not carnival but there are celebrations in our country’, and I said, ‘well you bring what you do to mine.’

Myrle Roach:

My role in the carnival is on carnival I line up the whole parade. It’s an amazing thing because we have the minimum of floats and troops together, about 30; I’m not going to count last year because last year was so modified because of having to change from one day to another, then the weather playing havoc, etc. Among those 30 something floats and troops you have, as Morcea mentioned, the supplementary schools which are represented, the Polish, the Greek, the Gujarati, the Punjabi, the Arab school. These have been constant every year, the Chinese every year, and then you’ve got Scouts, Guides taking part, football clubs, schools on their own with their float and troop.

We try to come up with a theme every year, you might have seen some mentioned there < slide >, celebrating masquerading, sole of the people, with a play on the word ‘sole’, because of Northampton being the place for shoes, myths and legends of the world, etc. It gives people a wide scope to come up with anything you want to interpret the theme with. We have so many different multicultural things.

One of the things we have, Charlotte is aware of this too, is we get the carnival floats from the different villages, as far out as Newport Pagnell they send their carnival floats. Every aspect of carnival present and past, and hopefully the future, is being represented, because, as Morcea said, with Gloucester Nursery there are those little ones some are in pushchairs, their pushchairs are dressed up, they’ve got whatever it is they have to have on and mummy’s pushing them along, so they’re growing up in the carnival culture.

Every year we try to reach somebody else. Morcea’s already captured these Afghan youths, so hopefully they’ll be here this year. One year we kept trying to get the travellers, because it was one group that we thought, you’re in Northampton and sometimes they get negative press, etc, and we got them 2 years in a row. They weren’t there last year because of the change of date, but we got them 2 years in a row.

The first year they brought this lovely little pony and a traditional traveller’s wagon and everything. They wanted to bring a horse, but they realised with all the noise from the music, etc, that would spook the horse, but the pony was lovely. It made people in the audience, because there are thousands of people that line the streets to look at the parade on carnival day, see a different side of the travellers, it wasn’t the pesky disgusting people that they thought were invading, these were people who had some tradition to them, had culture to share.

They ran a workshop with us, showed schools how to make flowers from paper and toilet rolls, that sort of thing, and that was amazing to the schools. They went away and were able to make and decorate their floats with something new they’d learnt through the travellers, through our carnival workshop.

It’s what we try to do, because in doing this we’re capturing and making new resources all the time for archiving. As Southend said this morning, archiving isn’t just about the old and what’s gone, you have to keep capturing what you’re doing now so it’s secure and it’s there for people to use. That’s the important thing about archiving, it’s not about things that happened a long time ago, it’s about what you’re doing now and making sure you’re preserving it.

Morcea Walker:

We want to finish there, but some of the pictures you’ve been seeing, one company, when we first started back, from London found us and they’ve been supporting us, some of the big costumes. They don’t just arrive and plonk them on people, not at all, they bring them, they build them with the person that’s going to wear them, and again it’s learning a new style. We run workshops so people can come along, we try and engage with people who can throw in their Caribbean flavour, and through the Archive Project and working with a couple of schools it’s been very successful.

I just want to say that we’re enjoying the journey. I’m really sorry there are no funders here, because I don’t know how many of you have seen the film ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’ one of my favourite films, it’s about the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbour. At the end the very end of the film, the Japanese were saying, ‘we’ve done well, we caught them on the hope …’ and the leader says, ‘you have awakened a sleeping giant.’ I’m afraid where Northampton is concerned, Archive Project, you have indeed awakened a sleeping giant.

Hilary Carty:

Thank you so much. Here we have two ladies who have captured the spirit of that multicultural carnival in Northampton and brought it right up to the present day, so it’s fantastic to be working with everyone who is part of Northampton, saying, ‘bring your culture with you, come and participate.’ Do we have any questions?


I want to look at the funding. You said you started with no money, just very passionate, had energy, about moving it forward, that’s fantastic. Now you’ve got over that first hurdle how easy has it been to tap into

Myrle Roach:



No, not yet?

Myrle Roach:

Not yet. It’s an on-going struggle, and I’m sure anybody who organises a carnival, or any huge event, would identify with what we’re saying. It’s an on-going struggle. There are a lot of things out there competing for priority in funding with the current financial climate. At one time I would say we were beginning to chip away at it, but with the current financial climate right now you can see a slight backward trend.

For them to put carnival as a priority you have to be able to identify and tick certain boxes, and even when you do there are other people competing with you, ticking the same boxes, about unity in the community, promoting diversity, disabilities, that sort of thing, that we can tick the boxes and say, ‘yes we addressed these issues.’ There is a lot of competition out there for it.

Morcea Walker:

One of the hardest competitions, and it’s got to stop really, some of the funders have got to look at this really carefully, is when you get a council, like our Borough Council, that can eat into the same funds we’re applying for. Only last week, Friday, we had a conversation with somebody who said, ‘well the council are getting money for their event in the same park you’re going to be in, why didn’t they tell us about your event so we could look at how we were handing the money out?’ I think what she was actually saying, ‘we would really like to give it to you, but you’ve got the council going for the same pot as yourself’, so it’s difficult.

Years ago, I think by about 2008 / 2009 we were beginning to see that it was much smoother …

Myrle Roach:

It was much easier then.

Morcea Walker:

… and then the funding changes, whereas group A couldn’t apply now group A, B, and C can apply, and D gets pushed down a little bit more in that same pot.

One of the main funders the other day of small funding actually froze, they had so many applications that they said, ‘stop, no more applications, no more we can’t deal with it.’ It’s dreadful.

Myrle Roach:

The thing that’s very difficult is the expenses. The majority of expenses in putting on a carnival are more about the infrastructure than actually the art form itself. It’s about paying for road closures, getting the toilets, meeting certain health and safety regulations, ‘the stage must be this way …’ Those are the things that cost the most, and those are the things you don’t easily get funding for, you get little pockets of money out there to run a workshop, that sort of thing, but you have to find that money for that infrastructure to be in place otherwise the event isn’t going to happen.

Morcea Walker:


Myrle Roach:

What’s been happing in the East Midlands is we’re trying to promote collaborative working of carnival together. Security is another one, so if you can get a contract for a security firm for three or four carnivals. People have to be looking at that more now because the funding isn’t readily available.

Hilary Carty:

This is where the issue of collaboration is really important on some of those bigger issues. All carnivals are dealing with security, insurance and things like that, and in the East Midlands I know EMCAN, the East Midlands Carnival Network, are pulling together to try and see if they can, through their collective resources, procure cheaper deals. We have to start looking at that network. There’s obviously a role there for UKCCA in brokering and pulling different people together to try and help all of the carnivals.

Myrle Roach:

Can I just say one more thing there, because so much focus and energy has to be put on raising money for the infrastructure, we have to try and not get away from the creative part of carnival. We still have to always maintain the importance of workshops, of artists, of designers, of costume builders, that’s important. It’s finding that balance, because without the infrastructure you can’t have the event, but we need the creative part of it to be also a focus for people to invest in.

Morcea Walker:

We are very keen; we have groups from Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, Bedford, Luton who come to our event to add that layer. Sometimes when it’s missing, or you think, it would be great this year to have x come up, because it will inspire, encourage and so on. We are blessed that people, Eric is around somewhere and he’s been down to ours, Juliette from Leicester, George, they come down and support us as well, so that’s equally important.

Hilary Carty:

Again it’s that collaboration. Thank you.

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