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Chris Slann, The New Carnival Company

Time for change!

“The Isle of Wight has one of the oldest carnival traditions in the country. When Ryde held the first one in 1887, it was described in the local paper as being a ‘rather bewildering spectacle.’

“My partner Frankie and I came to the Island in 2002. We had previously developed the Luton International Carnival from 1989 until 2002 and came here to take up a carnival development post and an arts development officer role.

“We ended up opening the UK’s first ever Carnival Learning Centre before starting the New Carnival Company, which gained National Portfolio status in 2012.

“The pandemic has put many of our plans on hold but we are looking at other ways of engaging with our community in 2021. We are currently developing a National Children’s Carnival Week through a digital and artist supported programme. Our annual Mardi Gras event normally held in the streets of Ryde will be an integral part of this national programme.

“We will be kicking-off from the other side of Easter and culminating over the final week of the summer term. We are working with the UK Centre for Carnival Arts in Luton and carnivals as far afield as Norwich, Huddersfield, Bridgwater, and Gloucester.

“We see community activities like carnival as being so important for the soul of a place. When you look at Ryde High Street, it has sadly deteriorated in recent years.

“I think the time has come for us to accept the High Street needs to change. If it is going to survive and attract people, it needs to become a creative space. The Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) is a great opportunity to make it an interesting space that people want to visit.

“We lived in Ryde for 18 years and I always thought the High Street would be a great place to hold a street arts festival with buskers.

“To be a successful creative space, the commercial pressures and public perception of what the High Street is there for, have to change.

“Looking ahead five years, I would love to see more space for temporary public art. At Christmas we worked with the community on a ‘Merry and Bright’ event which saw us working with 10 community groups.

“Each of them produced large light installations that were placed around the town and you could see people visiting them in a safe, socially distanced way.

“It would be great to have public art in the streets that people could enjoy – these sort of art trails are very popular and encourage people to visit towns they might otherwise not have been to.

“Ultimately there needs to be a balance between retail, hospitality and the third sector. A partnership between all three sectors would be ideal.

“And if that can be achieved, I am very optimistic about the outcome.”