UFO and the Grenfell tragedy “Children Creating Community at Carnival”


Back in June we were hoping that our Arts Council funding application might be successful, and we were dreaming up potential designs for our truck, hoping to be able to stage the band at 2017 Notting Hill Carnival and The London New Year’s Day Parade.

Then we heard we had been successful – our dreams for our new project would become a reality – we were celebrating and started planning!

But a few days later the Grenfell Tower tragedy happened.

Many of us live in the community and were directly affected.

Everything had changed, and there was now a question over whether or not Notting Hill Carnival should even go ahead – how could we revel in the shadow of the tower?

Amid a terrible time, the Carnival community and local people contemplated, considered, discussed. But carnival has always brought hope amid adversity; we remembered that Carnival itself originated as a message of joy, community, music and fellowship amid times of difficulty and oppression – Notting Hill Carnival had to go ahead and we had to find a way for UFO’s input to Carnival to have respect and integrity within our tribute to Grenfell.

Grenfell brought an outpouring of community support and voluntary projects. Like many people in our community I helped in a local volunteer centre – those first few weeks while the community began to come to terms with what had just happened. We were trying to work out how to best receive, sort, package, move and share the overwhelming abundance of donations that arrived daily in Notting Hill and North Kensington from all over UK.

It was a distraught and unforgettable time, and I was thankful to Notting Hill Carnival – many years of running Fox Carnival Community Arts projects in schools had given me valuable teamwork and project management experience, which gave me a focus, and which I hoped in some small way helped.

In my mind all that time was how could we use our experience to help with children in schools where staff were on the coal face of dealing with trauma. In relation to Carnival and using our arts funding,  I wanted to find a way of creating a project that could give some kind of message of hope, bring some kind of joy at this terrible time.

The answer I felt lay somewhere within a children’s art project that we could bring to the public at Carnival.

Three weeks after Grenfell our project was ready to deliver. Having led many years of arts projects in local schools, the head teachers we knew welcomed us into classes that were traumatised or directly bereaved.

The aim of our design brief was to enrol the children in the idea making drawings about community, then bringing the drawings – as collaborative murals –  to the public. We talked with the children about the colour and joy of Carnival, about what it means in our community. We talked about large trucks  – how those huge artics that deliver supplies to Ladbroke Grove’s Sanisbury’s are transformed at Carnival into moving stages holding steel bands. We talked about how these trucks can be decorated and how the UFO truck could look amazing if it was covered with children’s art. We hoped this would make people smile as the truck went by.

The children completely understood the concept and created their drawings with expression, beauty, kindness and generousity.

This was a quick project – only 45 minutes to one hour in several classes – but it was effective and a fantastic success, and teachers offered it to more and more classes right up until the last few days of term. We ended up with 400 amazingly beautiful and compelling images of community – people, activity, buildings, sunshine – which I collaged digitally in my studio into collective scenes. These were printed on to 12 meter canvas banners designed to completely wrap the 45ft articulated lorry.

The results were stunning.

It was moving at Carnival to see people’s reaction to the artwork. One woman told us with tears in her eyes that she had lost family in the fire: “This is the first thing that has really makes me feel joy since – thank you.” She stayed with the truck for most of the day, dancing to the steel pan music and we journeyed through the carnival route.

Some children in the crowd were ecstatic to recognise their little piece of art within the large designs on the truck – a little character or a scene they had drawn. People just got it – the children’s art said it all.

The project received a lot of press coverate – here is a link to the biggest one – Good Morning Britain (although it was so disappointing that Richard Madely changed the emphasis of the piece, which threw us, but still good that so many people saw the children’s art.) https://www.facebook.com/fiona.hawthorne/posts/1708560692507878

This is an image of the truck going down the ‘quiet zone’ by Grenfell Tower, the steelband playing ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ https://www.facebook.com/claire.simmons.16/posts/10154574317707315

And this is the artwork…




Thank you children for making the truck something UFO Steelband were proud of. We were proud to display the vibrant, generous expression of children, proud of the joy it brought to audiences, and – most of all – proud of the message collective shared, that we must never forget Grenfell, that we must learn form this terrible tragedy, that it can never happen again.


This is UFO Steelband on the truck adorned with the banners, playing “BussHead”, about to set out for Carnival https://youtu.be/PQNKSwgF7bA


SATURDAY PREP – Seeing The Printed Artwork For The First Time  – By Tamala

It was Saturday 26th August, two days before UFO would go on the road at Notting Hill Carnival.

The vast and empty 45ft articulated lorry stood under the trees, conveniently parked on a blocked residential street in Shepherds Bush. From experience, we knew there was a LOT to accomplish in the several hours allotted, even with all hands on deck.

Over the past few years of UFO Steelband at Carnival, a system has developed to achieve Fiona’s vision for ‘truck design’ as efficiently and quickly as possible and always with an eye towards the impact – both visually and musically – of the final product. The lorry’s ‘curtain sides’ had been pulled back and secured, the floor of the trailer was cleared and swept, the pans in their cases were lined up on the pavement, and the stainless steel stands opened and ready for the instruments. The drum kit and large basses were placed on the truck first, then stands arranged on the flatbed, a puzzle woven by Jason to ensure a disribution of instruments that would create a perfectly balanced sound as we travelled the route, despite packing as many instruments and players as possible into the confined space. Steelpans were lifted on and off, as space was tested and adjusted to create an optimum arrangement that would allow players space to play, dance, perform and engage.

While this was happening on the truck, the substantial package containing our new banners was brought out. This year the banners had been carefully designed to be lifted over the roof of the truck like a giant sleeve, but first we needed to spread them out and assess the safest, surest way to achieve this.

So in the midst of a busy, active, exciting and almost chaotic atmosphere, the banners were unfolded and we all felt their impact.

Work slowed as we took in what had been achieved in Fiona’s workshops. The drawings by children local to Grenfell Tower told a powerful story – of the importance of community and friends and music and carnival and creativity – in a way that many adults were struggling to express. Individual drawings voiced smaller stories – hopscotch, skateboards, steel pan, super heroes, an impressive sound stage, and lots and lots of friends holding hands – and collectively they provide a powerful, beautiful testament to the resilience of hope and the importance of a shared community.

We had to shake ourselves back into the task at hand, but as we secured the banners into place, we felt we had achived together the transformation of our huge lorry into something beautiful and compelling that would move gracefully through the streets of Notting Hill. Via the UFO truck were able to collectively reflect back to the community a strong clear message from children – that music, art, dance, friends, and hope can lift us all up, together.