It wasn’t until we were well into 2018 that we realised the lasting benefits of our 2017 funding from the Arts Council of England: In the resulting project we had mixed music with art and collaborated with another steelband… as a result we were now better players, we had developed better methodology for including new beginners, our musical sections could now better assist each other, our policies were stronger and participants fully engaged. We had also developed truck design methodology that we could share with other steelbands… in the form of a huge ‘sleeve’ that could be pulled over the top to drop down at the sides and cover the truck in vibrant imagery. Overall we had strengthened and developed UFO’s own unique way of working – where everyone worked to a value system and a ‘staging code’ bound by high expectations for bringing quality Art to audiences.


We realised we had gained a reputation as a creative, professional and very charismatic fully inclusive steelband and were going from strength to strength.


2018 soon led to more successes. We were booked to play at 10 Downing Street on Windrush Day alongside the Kingdom Choir, and then again to play the No. 10 staff party. One of our members who started UFO as beginner described this opportunity as a “phenomenal and unforgettable experience.” Another, who is visually impaired, in her late 70s and a “child of Windrush” said that having the opportunity to play in 10 Downing Street had not even been in her “wildest dreams” and she said she would be “reliving it daily for the rest of my life!”




We also had the opportunity to run a two-day workshop in a special school, where we involved every child in key stage 2 in playing steelpan. This wasn’t just an opportunity for pupils to have a go – every child, regardless of ability, got to learn an arrangement and perform it for the parents at a separate carnival event. The headteacher described our work as “the best music workshop ever brought to the school” which the kids “just couldn’t stop talking about.” We feel strongly that the success came from having developed strong policy that enabled real teamwork – all band members/participants had realised the value and privilege of being in a steelband and of being involved in the arts – so they in turn genuinely wanted to give something back and share the arts with more people… some even took days off work to assist in this workshop.


Through this and other schools workshops we also developed steelpan/Calypso collaboration with musician Alexander D Great, finding a new way of teaching two carnival artforms (i.e. steelpan playing and calypso singing) simultaneously and then swopping groups, and also merging in an upbeat history lesson –as a result participants could place carnival arts into a wider context, and our players could better understand and explain the narrative around carnival arts – this in turn could play a part in helping strengthen Notting Hill Carnival’s place in the arts of London.


Without funding it would be a struggle to take a truck on the road at Notting Hill and Hackney One Carnivals.  Trustees met, we workshopped ideas, and decided the way forward for 2018 was to donate, repurpose and recycle. We therefore created a project to transform our last year’s truck banners, created in a project just after Grenfell, and working with children in schools affected by the tragedy. We applied only for a small grant from Westway trust to run a mini festival in which we would involve the public as creative banner painters, mixed with steelpan performance and audience workshops –the idea was that the banners would be given new 2018 life with colour! We begged paints from Windsor and Newton and venues to run the project, and the Festival was a complete success – many people got involved and loved the events (which ran at “The Curve” Grenfell support centre and on North Kensington’s Portobello Green on a busy market Saturday.) A huge challenge however was that Westway only gave us half of the grant we applied for – £2,500  – but expected us to run the festival in full. We met the challenge by using the budget to fund materials and transportation, but had no funds to pay for planning, administration, tuition and leading the project.







The strength and experience gained over 2018  – and from the many years running our charity’s children’s Masquerade Band Fox Carnival – lead to our artistic director, Fiona Hawthorne, being selected on to the advisory board of Notting Hill Carnival, where she played a key part in introducing an on-the-road competition for best truck design, ultimately helping address the issues of large, untidy vehicles frequenting Europe’s largest street festival: it was commonplace for 45’ articulated lorries to serve mainly as advertising hoardings. She successfully convinced the board that in order to raise the artistic integrity of Notting Hill Carnival to attract funding and ensure its longevity, we have to make vehicles part of the spectacle. Fiona is currently working on an initiative to link Notting Hill Carnival to BECTU’s incentive that achieved 104 West End Theatres signing up to a robust equal employment policy… so the artists and artisans of NHC could transfer their valuable skills and be welcomed into the UK Theatre workplace.






Our tuck looked amazing at Carnival and was endlessly photographed by the crowd. We also took some of the characters drawn by children “off the truck” and created carnival standards, which we printed on correx. This meant that the overall design extended on the the ground and into the audience, in the form of moving, dancing Carnival standards (art mounted on a pole) reminiscent of our 17 years work with the charity… before we became Urban Fox Orchestar our key activity was children’s masquerade in the form of “Fox Carnival” which included thousands of children in carnival art-making and performance, over a 17 year period. It was exciting to bring back mas!




Click here to watch a one minute video of UFO on the road at Carnival!!

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During Notting Hil Carnival 2018 UFO did 9 pieces of very positive PR – we were on BBC, London Live, ITV, featured in the London Evening Standard, and more. Our 4 leaders were photographed by internationally renowed Magnum Group photographer Alex Majouri as the behind the scene creators of Carnival, and Fiona Hawthorne was included in Alex D Great’s award winning Calypso “Unsung Heroes.” 2018 was about playing a key part in helping raise awareness of carnival arts amid the wider arts – we felt we really contributed.


But 2018 was a busy  – in fact exhausting  – year, and we simply did not have the capacity – or the energy required –  to apply for arts funding. A key member of our team developed a serious but thankfully curable illness which took away the chance for this piece of work. We decided that UFO gigs income alone would have to support taking a truck on the road at Notting Hill Carnival, which we would have to do on a shoestring budget.


Not having funding, and running 2018 on a shoestring, meant we really had to look at what UFO is all about. As a result we further streamlined all processes around who we include and why, and focused on giving benefits and support to our disabled players, or to those who had little access to being involved in the arts, at the same time encouraging band members to donate time and to work as a team. As a result able bodied players genuinely helped disabled players, genuinely included audience members, and genuinely fought for the privilege of being involved in the arts, and sharing that with others.


This led to Michael Toussaint (our blind pan mentor) and Fiona Hawthorne (our artistic Director) giving a talk at the Biennial steelpan conference of 2018, where they challenged the steelpan and carnival arts world to rise to the challenge of genuinely supporting disability arts, which is so often overshadowed by competition. (a summery of the talk is included at the end of this piece.) Feedback showed this was one of the best and most inspiring talks at the conference – and we hope it has real impact in helping make the steelpan music world become more inclusive.




In fact the material for our talk came from UFO’s decision early in 2018 to merge the visually impaired section of the steelband with the main class, to become a fully inclusive steelband. This was a difficult decision that took many hours of meetings, workshops and trying out ideas. Ultimately our objective was to raise standards in the music and art and to be more inclusive.


We realised that over time our participants in the visually impaired class were really enjoying the social aspect of meeting weekly – it was joyous and fun to be part of a steelpan community. However Michael’s plan had been to inspire the VI players to excel at pan playing, and ultimately FOX/UFO was all about participation in carnival arts  and performance.  Our small, tight VI group now knew each other very well and felt safe and nourished meeting weekly, but it had actually become difficult to find ways to focus on rehearsal. Furthermore, the prospect of change was actually becoming a threat to the harmony of the group, even with regards to welcoming new VI participants. This was a learning curve for the band – sighted members began to have a real understanding of the challenges and fears that VI people can face in everyday life. We understood how  – given the circumstances  – a social group can become closed, leading to less emphasis on playing, learning and beings stretched.


We wanted to keep nourishing the social aspect for VI players but being the leader was placing much responsibility on Michael Toussaint, who although blind had lived and breathed the steelpan and music world, not the VI social world. Expectations on to him to be the figurehead could add stress and ultimately be a burden on Michael, taking away some of the joy of teaching pan.


It took hours of support and encouragement to get our VI players to integrate totally into the full steelband, but it absolutely worked! We still encourage the weekly social meet, but the class is now fully integrated, led by Jason Constantine the musical director, with the VI players supported by Michael Toussaint within the class. We now have four VI players playing regular gigs in the band, and in June welcomed a new player who was one of the pupils from the special school we had run a workshop in – an 11 year old boy who is completely blind – who is now one of UFO’s key players. His parents tell us that playing on the road at Notting Hill Carnival 2018 was “the best day of his life” and for the whole family, being part of UFO has been “lifechanging.”






Throughout the year we played some great gigs – Hackney Carnival on a truck adorned with our recycled banners, several gigs at the new St George’s Square in Ealing, several street festivals, culminating in a special carol concert at St Marylebone Church London with the purpose of the concert was to help raise money for children’s heart surgery for the ‘Chain of Hope” charity. We played Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” and Ultimate Reject’s soca tune “Inside the Festival amid the most beautiful accoustics. It was UFO’s first programmed performance to a silent audience and we were programmed alongside Stephen K Amos, and Lord Archer… but UFO were described as the highlight!


The year ended with UFO accepting an invitation to take the band to Tunisia to play Hammamet Carnival at a time when the country is doing all it can to re-attract tourism following the terrorist attack of 2015 which has affected the economy so badly…. And UFO were left with just enough funds in the bank to pay the flights of a few members who would not have been able to make this trip without support, including one who had never been on an aeroplane before – watch this space for UFO updates on Tunisia!




All in all 2018 was an amazing year for the charity. We achieved so much in terms of development of the band, our music, our policy, or ethos, our methodology. However our leaders put in a year’s work largely on a voluntary basis, which is exhausting and ultimately puts sustainability at risk.  We have now reached a point where we simply cannot build on our vision – like playing Notting Hill and Hackney Carnival with more exuberance and even better staging, further developing our integration by purchasing necessary instruments that are better for our visually impaired players, including more players, reaching more audiences and simply keeping on spreading the joy of steelpan and the arts…. without funding.


We know our charity’s assets (which are set out below) and know we have a lot to offer. We know what playing steelpan weekly makes people feel, we know what audiences appreciate. So please wish us luck in ongoing ventures to seek partnerships and raise funds so we can do more exciting work… Onwards and upwards UFO!








Fiona and Michael’s talk for the International Biennial Steelpan Conference.


The Blind Leading The Blind

Making Difference Work in UFO Steelband  by Fiona Hawthorne and Michael Toussaint



UFO Steelband started 5 years ago in a church hall in Ealing, with a handful of instruments, much intrepid enthusiasm, and a desire to create something that somehow broke the mould.


Fiona brought energy, ideas and creative direction. Jason brought musical experience, exciting arrangements and very patient teaching, and it wasn’t long before Jason also brought Michael, his longtime “partner in pan”, already well known in the steelpan world as the only blind tenor player anyone had ever seen. Michael’s words “BUT I’VE RETIRED FROM THE STEELBAND WORLD!” were soon joyously overruled by the band.


Practicing our set for our first Carnival in 2014, watching Michael’s tenor sticks dance over his pan making beautiful music, Fiona thought, “If Michael can, other blind people can too.” And it turned out that creating ‘the world’s first Blind Steelband’ was already Michael’s Dream. So UFO started our ‘mission impossible’.


Indeed it would require support, and we luckily found “Unlimited” a fund aimed at supporting the work of disabled artists. But after many arduous hours of idea development and application writing… we didn’t get the grant. The silver lining was that the failed application helped hone our vision and so we applied to the Arts Council of England, this time with scaled down expectations… would they, in funding the UFO performance season which included Notting Hill Carnival, the Mayor’s Thames Festival and many community gigs – also fund just two visually impaired people to join UFO, and be supported to become pan players?


Thankfully, we got the grant. But Michael’s mission to recruit via the local social club for the blind in Ealing led to a problem… there were 8 visually impaired people who wanted to join and we only had space for two, so – knowing how hard it can be for steelbands to keep players – we took on all the new recruits, thinking the majority would probably drop out.


But they didn’t. As Michael said, “We’ve now got a class with the blind leading the blind.”


One of the joys was the recruitment of Bill Lambe who played dudup, beating ‘on the one’ with his wife Murial’s hand held over his. Now aged 75 Bill has dementia as well as deteriorating vision, but when he becomes part of a band making music, some of his lost memories come back… memories of being in the MET Police in the very early days of Notting Hill Carnival, when he knew Rhaunie Laslett and Sonny Blacks and the youth steel bands back in the day, and he remembers his love of steelpan, and how he would love to play in a steelband… and now does.


The last four years have indeed brought challenges. Sighted members of the band have had to develop their own confidence to learn about disability, and visually impaired members – known in the band as “The VIPs” – have had to work on developing trust so they can help. There have been funny moments, wondering why the notes don’t sound right and realising it’s because the player is behind – not in front of – the pan. There have also been many moments of joy, like when our latest new recruit, 12 year old Tango – who is completely blind – played his first Carnival on the UFO truck and grinned from ear to ear as he felt the elation and delight that playing pan on the road brings. Every gig we’ve played has included visually impaired and hearing impaired members – and we’ve all appreciated how lucky we are to be able to lift people with music, whether it’s playing for the homeless at Crisis for Christmas, or even getting the limbo dancing going at the staff party at No. 10 Downing Street.


UFO may not aspire to competing against other steelbands and winning any musical crowns, but we play twice a week all through the year, are developing our own unique sound and style, and are certainly having so much fun… making music and creating new methodology in the process of becoming genuinely inclusive. If we can help show other bands that ‘difference works’ we feel that would be a major achievement and could help strengthen the steelpan community, and we are up for that.




UFO Assets


  • A small charity that has exceeded in its 10 year history – 21 years of successful projects, many have won awards


  • Leadership:


  • – Michael Toussaint and Jason Constantine 60 years collective experience of playing/teaching steelpan all over the world.
  • – Fiona Hawthorne – visual artist with Level 7 ILM strategic leadership and 20 years experience in leading award winning community arts projects. – Southbank “changemaker’, WIFTS “Arts Advocate Award (2016).
  • – Jason Constantine 20 years experience of arranging steelpan orchestras for performance, competition, film scores.
  • – Actor Colin Salmon (when not filming) plays in and narrates the band, acting as figurehead for UFO.
  • – Fiona Hawthorne and Colin Salmon created, produced, art directed and led event “One Thousand Pans” from inception to performance for London 2012 handover to Brazil.


  • Offer exciting ‘special day’ workshops for education, or for teambuilding in the workplace


  • Full set of instruments – some on loan, some charity owned assets


  • Secure base for rehearsals – non-secular relationship with Christ the Saviour church who completely support UFO


  • 5 years of audited steel band accounts – 10 years of audited charity accounts


  • Two rehearsals days per week throughout the year – 5 classes


  • Inclusion in classes inexpensive or free to those on low income or disabled – ability to pay is not a barrier to participation


  • All policies in place, players sign a detailed agreement



  • Twitter, Instagram and facebook social medial presence


  • Wide performance experience – from London New Year’s Day parade to Notting Hill Carnival to Windrush Day at 10 Downing Street to Royal Festival Hall


  • Diversity of players aged 7 to 77 from all backgrounds /cultural groups


  • Fully integrated steelband that genuinely Inclused of visually impaired/hearing impaired players – UFO is the only steelband in UK offering this.


  • Creative, artistic staging, and merging of different artforms with steelpan playing – eg 2018 truck design project with children affected by Grenfell


  • Reliable instrument tuner as part of the band – can teach tuning skills/ apprenticeships


  • 30 regular players, capacity to include more players for certain projects. Methodology in place enables inclusion of beginners all year round.


  • Team of 25 experienced volunteers


  • Additional band skills – filmmaking, osteopathy & physical therapy, radio broadcasting, acting and directing, IT, social media, chef, nursing, dentistry, disability support, art, legal, advertising, finance, architecture.