Notting Hill Carnival turns green for tower fire tragedy

Local community members create banners, posters and bunting in Kensington, near the burnt-out remains of Grenfell Tower in London on August 25, 2017 ahead of the Notting Hill Carnival. The art work is being made by volunteers from the community devestated by the Grenfell tower fire disaster as part of a project called Green for Grenfell in which paper hearts, banners, posters and bunting relating to the Grenfell tower tragedy are being made out of recycled materials to adorn the streets in time for the Notting Hill Carnival this coming weekend. Tolga AKMEN / AFP

In the shadow of charred Grenfell Tower, Londoners are preparing decorations for this weekend’s Notting Hill Carnival to commemorate the victims of the fire that killed at least 80 people.

Volunteers are busy cutting out paper hearts, painting banners and inflating balloons ahead of Europe’s biggest street festival on Sunday and Monday in the same streets where the tragedy unfolded in June.

“Green is a beautiful colour, of healing, of growth, and strength in adversity,” said Toby Laurent Belson, who works at a donation centre filled with piles of clothes for victims of the fire.

“The plan is to turn the carnival green for Grenfell,” he said. The decorations “remind people of what’s happened and show solidarity”. The colour was chosen by local schoolchildren as a way of paying homage to their friends lost in the blaze.

Hundreds were left homeless by the fire, in a working-class enclave of Britain’s richest borough where multi-million pound mansions stand just a short walk from dilapidated public housing.

‘Protest and celebrate’
The appeal for volunteers to help make decorations travelled far beyond the neighbourhood, thanks to social media. It is also a way of communicating the anger many feel against the local authorities they hold responsible for the fire.

“It’s an opportunity for the communities to come together and combat a lot of the negative images we see on social media and through the news,” said Swarzy Macaly, 24, a radio presenter from east London.

“I think there’s a lot of anger because the tragedy should never have happened… And so people are angry and their anger is just, but it needs to be channelled”.

The Caribbean-style festival in filled with piles of clothes was started in the 1960s following a series of race riots between new arrivals from former British colonies and local whites.

“Carnival was born through suffering. The beauty of carnival is the ability to be able to protest and celebrate,” said Ursula Parvex, a 37-year-old local teacher who was wearing a green t-shirt.

Painter Sabrina Rowan Hamilton said it was “a way of celebrating multicultural London”, symbolised by Grenfell Tower itself where 34 languages were spoken.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected over the two days of the carnival — where there will also be more solemn moments to commemorate a tragedy that has scarred the local community.

A minute’s silence will be held during the colourful, ear-splitting parade on both days and in the area immediately around the tower there will be a reflection zone for people to come and pay their respects.

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